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The question of whether divided government in the United States is good or bad cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. While decision-making under such circumstances is far from perfect, shared power gets a decidedly bad rap. Criticisms leveled against divided government include problems arising from so-called "gridlock," the fear that it leads to highly contentious executive-legislative relations, and the difficulty it may cause the president in making administrative and judicial appointments. On the flip side, one can argue that divided government limits the size and scope of government and fosters healthy competition between presidents and Congress that produces quality legislation. Perhaps the most common criticism leveled against divided government is that it produces gridlock. The level of gridlock stemming from divided government can be determined by examining "the share of salient issues on the nation's agenda left in limbo at the close of each Congress." (1) At first glance, gridlock seems inevitable when power is shared, but there appears to be no statistically significant difference in terms of comparing legislative accomplishments of governments under unified or divided rule. As political scientist David Mayhew points out, the passage rate of "significant" legislation during times of divided government is only marginally lower than that during periods of unified control. In fact, Mayhew finds that unified government produces only about one more piece of significant legislation per two-year election cycle. (2) Using a narrower definition to describe significant legislation, Sean Kelly, another political scientist, arrives at a similar conclusion. Divided government, he asserts, produces only about three fewer pieces of legislation per two-year interval, a result that, again, is not statistically significant. (3) Thus, it appears that claims that divided government leads to "gridlock" are little more than hyperbole.

September 22
Pi Gamma Mu
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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