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The Problem of Divided Government in an Era of Polarized Par

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Azaria K.

on 20 November 2014

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Transcript of The Problem of Divided Government in an Era of Polarized Par

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Key Terms:
Cloture
: The process in the Senate that is used to end a filibuster. It requires 60 votes to invoke cloture, which in turn ends a filibuster.
Divided Government
: The situation of different parties controlling the presidency and one or both houses of Congress. Divided government has been common throughout American history at times, but has been particularly prevalent since 1968.
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By Azaria King, Rosie Darazio, Roszlynn Becerra, and Austin Johnson
The Problem of Divided Government in an Era of Polarized Parties
Divided Government
Filibuster
: The senate tradition of unlimited debate, allowing a senator, once he or she has the floor, to speak for an unlimited time. This process can block or delay the consideration of legislation and can only be stopped by invoking cloture.
Divided Government
The Effect of Divided Government on Presidential-Congressional Outcomes
Party Polarization and the Future of Presidential-Congressional Relations

Although divided government has become the norm, there has been a great deal of variation in the degree to which government has been unified or divided.
While Republican President's typically have governed over periods divided government, the size of their opposition has fluctuated greatly-meaning the number of the majority of Democrats changed often
Obviously, controlling one chamber, as it did for Bush's first term of presidency, is better for a President then controlling neither.
Different Presidents have encountered very different political environments with respect to divided government.
Bush is an example of a President who faced two completely different periods of divided government during a single presidency.
The prevalence of divided party control, as well as the wide variation in the size of party control, has led scholars to turn their attention to this phenomenon to assess the impact of party control on various political outcomes in the American system.
Before political scientists investigated the effects of divided government, people assumed that divided party control led to gridlock. The assumption was that divided government resulted in a terrible political relationship between the President and Congress.
One of few people to test this theory was Mayhew. He examined whether the amount of major pieces of legislation passed in a particular year was affected by the presence of divided government. He did this over a roughly 50 year period.
He concluded that there was not a significant difference between the amount of major legislation passed during times of unified and divided government.
Mayhew also tested whether Congress was more likely to conduct investigations of the executive branch during divided government, again showing no difference for this between unified and divided party control.
He ultimately concluded that divided government did not present an adverse political environment between the President and Congress.
The polarization of the Democratic and Republican parties in recent years has changed the course of Presidential-Congressional relations.
This ideological polarization has translated into larger disparities between the ideological position of the present and key congressmen during periods of divided government.
Gridlock
: The situation that occurs when partisan conflict in government prevents the Congress and president from enacting and putting into effect legislation.
Party Polarization
: A situation hat occurs in the United States when the two parties become ideologically controlled.When that happens, the result is that relatively few moderates staff Congress, leading to difficulty in making legisltaive compromises.
Unified Government
: The circumstances of one party controlling both chambers of Congress and the presidency at the same time.
Divided government exists when the President's party does not also control both chambers of Congress.
Some History
Divided government has been more common than unified government in the post-World War II period.
Although divided government has been common in this period, the level of disagreement between Congress has varied greatly over this period.
Some History
For much of this period, divided government has been prevalent alongside Republican Presidents, such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, since the Democratic party held a vast majority of Congress seats.
Democratic Presidents, such as Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, faced unified party control.
It wasn't until Bill Clinton took office that there was a Democratic President facing an opposition Congress. Similarly, George W. Bush's Presidency was the first time a Republican President presided over a period of unified party control in the last 40 years.
Mayhew's research made others conduct their own and their findings were very different.
They found that while the number of legislative enactments doesn't vary between times of unified and divided government, the legislative content does.
Congress delegates greater levels of discretion to the bureaucracy when a President of the same party controls the White House and less discretion during periods of divided government.
The likelihood of the failure of Presidents to pass legislation and the likelihood of Presidents blocking, vetoing, legislation is greater during divided government.
There are greater levels of policy gridlock during periods of divided government since the percentage of legislation passed is significantly lower during divided government.
The Senate's "advise and consent" role on Presidential nominations to the judiciary and executive branch makes this another Presidential-Congressional outcome that may be affected by divided government.
Unified government is crucial to the President, as opposition control of the Senate s a negative impact on nominations. Segal proposed that the process is a struggle between the Senate and the President, rather than just a struggle between the parties.
Others concluded that the ideological distance between the President and the Congress is an important constraint on the ability of Presidents to get their nominees through the Senate quickly. More ideological discord between the President and Congress leads to a longer confirmation process and a higher likelihood of obstruction.
Therefore, divided government has a negative impact on Presidential-Congressional relations.
The effect of divided government on the various outcomes we have discussed seems to be dependent on the degree to which government is divided.
The wide variations in the number of seats held by the President's party during periods of both unified and divided government help determine how well the President and Congress work together.
When the President and Congress are ideologically close, we usually see higher levels of of legislative productivity and interbranch cooperation. When larger ideological differences exist, gridlock dominates Washington.
When Nixon was President, the Democratic and Republican parties were much closer to each other ideologically. It wasn't uncommon to see members of either party more often voting with the other party than with their own. Therefore, when Nixon faced a large seat deficit, the political environment that he faced was less adverse than it seemed.
When Clinton became President, the two parties had become much more polarized ideologically. Party unity reached high levels especially in the house. Cooperation between the parties dissipated.
We can conclude that the effect of divided government on Presidential-Congressional relations is not as straightforward as simple party control of government.
Unified government doesn't mean Presidential success in Congress or high levels of legislative productivity and neither does divided government mean gridlock.
Instead, the allocation of seats in Congress and the preferences of both legislators and Presidents affect the relationship between the legislative and executive branches.
When either the President or Congress has an incentive to transcend party polarization, that incentive may ease the passage of legislation.
Conclusion
Not only has the parties become polarized from one another but the parties have also selected more polarized floor leaders and committee chairs in recent decades.
Today, party polarization means that divided government is more problematic now than ever before and this trend is likely continue.
Party polarization only increases the use of the filibuster, as the minority party is now further ideologically from the majority party. Given the prevalent use of the filibuster, presidential legislation can fail even during unified government unless a supermajority of 60 senators supports the bill.
During Bush's presidency, he had a difficult time because Democratic Senators used the filibuster as a tool for obstruction.
The only President whose party controlled enough seats to invoke cloture to stop a filibuster were Kennedy, Johnson and Carter.
Even Presidents who govern during unified periods of government find dealing with Congress difficult without a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate.
Conclusion

The seat allocations in the House and Senate, the ideological composition of Congress, and the level of party unity affect outcomes far greater than simply whether government is divided or unified.
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