Since the 1990s, the topic of divided government has been among the most prominent topics explored by scholars of American political institutions. Divided government means that different parties control the legislative and executive branches of the American national government. For example, the governing arrangement in 2015 featured a Democratic president, Barack Obama, with a Congress controlled by the Republican Party. The flipside would be unified government, which occurs when one party controls the presidency, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate. Unified government occurred most recently during the first two years of the Obama presidency (2009–2010), when the Democrats controlled everything. The working hypothesis about divided government and gridlock is that when opposing parties control the institutional levers of power in the American system of separated powers, gridlock will naturally follow as both parties see a chance to enact their preferences and hence press their advantage. This logic was long espoused on television news shows before scholars began to tackle it. That scholars began to examine the causes and effects of divided government makes good sense. From the mid-20th century until 2000, the instance of divided government increased substantially compared to governing circumstances in the immediately prior era. In a discipline guided by theory on realigning elections and responsible parties, unified government fits better conceptually. Divided government raises many new and interesting questions.


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