In a recent blog post, professor Bryan Caplan suggests that bipartisan log-rolling (vote trading) is frequently untenable on wedge issues. Since there is a high degree of polarization in the climate of American politics, winning on contentious political topics that have clear ideological divisions (e.g. abortion and gun control is a zero-sum exchange. Not towing the party line of these policies is tantamount to political suicide for elected officials. Dr. Caplan does provide two conditions under which log-rolling is likely to occur:
“….First, when the two sides, protestations notwithstanding, share similar principles and don’t disagree very much. Like the budget. Or any ultra-boring issue, like fisheries or snow removal. This is what most democratic log-rolling comes down to.
Second, to avert large, sudden deteriorations. The polity will forgive you for passing up endless opportunities to make the country richer or safer. But if life quickly gets much worse, even the most silver-tongued demagogues struggle to keep holding the reins of state…”
Professor Caplan is a very astute and innovative Public Choice scholar, but he ignores a potential third condition under which vote trading may transpire; intrapersonal vote exchange. This example of vote trading is a form of implicit log-rolling (p.101), where policies are entrenched in a specific political party’s platform. By voting for a candidate affiliated with a coalition, the voter must accept all of the planks in the campaign platform, as we cannot cherry-pick the policies an individual candidate or party advocates.
Because of this, we must engage in some degree of policy preference ranking. Potentially, engendering an intrapersonal collective action problem, if a voter favors gun rights ( a conservative position) and open-borders immigration ( a liberal policy), odds are they effectively choose one over the other when voting for the president or another variety of political representatives ( a tradeoff). The policy or sets of policies the voter prefers more; will be the deciding factor. If Jim is a proponent of lax gun laws and lenient immigration laws; but votes for a conservative candidate, we can only surmise he values gun rights more than free immigration. In this scenario, Jim engaged in log-rolling with himself.
The most common form of intrapersonal vote trading is when people contour all of their policy preferences to the platform of a political party. The likelihood that every diehard Republic sincerely agrees with the party on every issue is exceedingly small, but most partisan political participants don’t even allow themselves to question their political beliefs. These individuals exchange any disagreements with their party of choice for the designated status as a loyal member of the political faction. An excellent example of this is former Reaganites supporting the presidency and 2020 candidacy of Donald Trump. Regan was the American king of Neoliberal trade policy; Trump echoes the paleoconservative concerns for globalization. We could provide a convoluted explanation for this discrepancy, but such gymnastics would be superfluous. It is much more probable that these individuals tailored their policy preferences to fit an evolving Republican party than they had a sincere paradigm shift.