The more things change, the more things stay the same. While there is some truth to this statement, more often things work in a way that allows for very little change. Many people prefer the current state because they don’t like to take risks. They are comfortable with the status quo, or the existing status.
Fearing radical change, many prefer to continue in the current condition, even if that condition is not optimum. They consider even less than favorable circumstances to be better than the unknown. In other words, change is not necessarily considered progress. This is known as status quo bias.
The status quo is easily recognized in the realm of politics. In a democracy, people will often continue electing the same leaders, despite displeasure, rather than vote for an unknown quantity. A politician who is an “outsider,” even though numerous people say that’s what they want, tends to be met with suspicion. One who does not enjoy name recognition is generally also seen as suspect.
While not all change is bad per se, profound or radical change generally can instill fear or apprehension. This is especially true concerning cultural changes, such as redefining marriage or banning a procedure such as partial birth abortion. When an issue has been addressed under an accepted standard throughout recent history, even if reluctantly, many people will be guarded when it comes to making sudden or drastic changes in that policy.
In some cases, a move away from the status quo will be temporary. Such is the case with legislation that includes a sunset clause. A sunset clause amounts to an expiration date. The law will expire and the situation will revert to the accepted state of affairs unless the law is renewed.
This is one way politicians can manipulate questionable legislation, by assuring the people that things will go back to the way they were. However, such legislation is frequently renewed, but apparently it is an effective tool because it removes the sense of an abrupt or radical move from the status quo.
Status quo is also a concept used in some agreements. A promise to sustain the existing status of affairs may be required before another party will become a signatory. An example is in agreeing to a ceasefire. Peace must continue, hostilities must not resume, if one party expects the other to fulfill its obligations. Retaining the status quo is required if the parties hope to enjoy the benefits provided by the agreement.