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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2009

Chapter 4 - Excavating concealed tradeoffs


Citizens in democracies are expected to make better decisions if they understand tradeoffs involved in policy. If they know the pluses and minuses for a policy in terms of their own interests and preferences, they would be expected to vote for or against them. Scholars in the United States debate whether or not citizens are able to vote their own interests in the absence of that knowledge. However, politicians rarely have incentives to communicate tradeoffs; a campaign stump speech stressing all the desirable things voters stand to lose in pursuing a policy that is in other ways attractive would have a hard time passing the public relations phalanxs. In the 1984 presidential campaign against Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale's promise to raise taxes to achieve his goals was not a winning war cry. Why do it when, in addition, voters are made uncomfortable having to choose among valued outcomes? They would rather not face the dissonance. Even if one is prepared to take the medicine and face up to the losses to gain the better outcome, devising a common metric is difficult. How do I find equivalencies between the road I want, the parkland I want for the kids, and the medical complex everybody, including me, wants? It is not surprising that in the United States the political environment provides relatively little cuing or priming of tradeoffs in television news.