Partisan Control of Government and Public Policy
Jones, David R. 2014. "Partisan Control of Government and Public Policy." In Guide to US Political Parties. Edited by Marjorie R. Hershey. Washington DC: CQ Press, 347-357.
33 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2014 Last revised: 22 Jul 2019
Date Written: November 19, 2013
We live in an era of unprecedented frequency of change in partisan control of government. Since at least 1994, neither of the United States’ two main political parties can be said to have had a lock on control of the House, the Senate, or the presidency. Incredibly, the seven elections from 1998 to 2010 produced six different combinations of party control: a Democratic president with a Republican Congress (1998), a Republican president with a divided Congress (2000), a Republican president with a Republican Congress (2002, 2004), a Republican president with a Democratic Congress (2006), a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress (2008), and a Democratic president with a divided Congress (2010).
Do such changes in partisan control carry meaningful consequences for public policy and the quality of democracy in the United States? Focusing on the federal government, this chapter examines five related aspects of this question. First, it looks at the degree of differentiation in the policy preferences of the two parties, and how these differences may have changed over time. Second, it discusses the extent to which presidents are compatible with their co-partisans in the legislative branch. Third, it presents the debate over whether divided party control of government as opposed to unified control affects the volume or quality of policy outcomes. Fourth, it considers whether Democratic control as opposed to Republican control affects policy content. Finally, given that frequent changes in party control have become the norm, it discusses the effect that such alternations in power have on policy coherence and representation.
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