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The Boston Globe

Ideas

UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE

Aw, don’t do that, grandma

Look, I’m an obstructionist!

As the harsh cuts of the sequester take effect, Americans of both parties are flummoxed. How could relations in Congress have come to such a disastrous standstill? Well, sorry, everyone: It may be partly the media’s fault. In a new paper, a professor of economics at Bowdoin uses game theory to model partisan legislative behavior and finds that the minority party has stronger incentives to obstruct—and be seen obstructing—when news reporting is less reliable in discerning good policy. As such, obstruction sends a useful signal to uncertain voters. It damages the majority’s reputation and chances of reelection, although the minority’s reputation suffers, too, leaving it with little to lose, creating a “feedback process in which gridlock has caused lower approval ratings, which have in turn caused further gridlock, and so on.” Sound familiar?

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