Dividist Library & Studies

A selection of books, papers, articles and links for any interested in embarking on a more detailed exploration of the topic of divided government and partisan gridlock in the United States federal government.


Book: Reflections of a Political Economist

Author: William Niskanen 
Amazon Blurb: "Acclaimed economist and Cato chairman William A. Niskanen illustrates how economic incentives significantly aid in the creation of successful policies and applies his sharply focused economic perspective to such topics as unemployment, election law, and the economics of war and peace. This practical approach toward economic policy generates surprising results and offers suggestions to avoid common pitfalls of government policymaking." 
Excerpt: "Our federal government may work better (well, less badly) when at least one house of Congress is controlled by the opposing party. Divided government is, curiously, less divisive. It’s also cheaper. The basic reason for this is simple: When one party proposes drastic or foolish measures, the other party can obstruct them. The United States prospers most when excesses are curbed, and, if the numbers from the past 50 years are any indication, divided government is what curbs them...  American voters, in their unarticulated collective wisdom, seem to grasp the benefits of divided government, and that’s how they’ve voted for most of the past 50 years." 
Dividist Comment: Bill Niskanen is the "godfather" of The Dividist Papers blog. His work on divided government was the original inspiration and impetus to craft and advocate a consistent divided government voting heuristic. Niskanen's willingness to elevate principle and empirical analysis over partisanship was in evidence throughout his life. His conviction that empirical evidence must drive policies and  politics, along with his refusal to let partisanship trump principle makes him the first Dividist. I am honored to follow in his footsteps. 
Dividist Papers Blog Links: 
William A. Niskanen - The Godfather of Divided Government Voting Strategy 
More scholarship & more reasons to vote for divided government 
All we are saying, is give divided government a chance 
Divided government, statistics, and war 
Thesis: Divided Government is Better Government 
Related Articles / Papers: 
Give divided government a chance - Washington Monthly  
Some Intriguing Findings About Federal Spending - Public Choice Society

Author: Morris Fiorina   
Amazon Blurb: "Fiorina's authoritative text on political parties in the U.S. Divided Government reviews the historical evolution of political parties and explores the consequences of divided government for the policy process."  
Excerpt: ""While not consciously choosing divided government, people may have a vague appreciation of the overall picture that plays some role in how they vote. People could be voting as if they are making conscious choices to divide government even if their individual decisions are well below the conscious level... the patterns of divided control that exist in this country seem to suggest something more as well; namely, that there is some method in the the electorate's seeming madness. Some of the aggregate features of election results are consistent with the notion that electorates want the kind of government they have and may even be voting in such a way as to produce it."
Dividist Comment:  Morris Fiorina wrote the definitive text on divided government. His speculations about the motivation of voters regularly electing divided governments go directly to the raison d'ĂȘtre for this blog. Our one original contribution is this: We propose that there should be a different answer to the question of why we elect divided governments above and beyond the subconscious process Fiorina posits.  We propose that rather than trusting the partisan balancing act to a subconscious impulse, we  - as a country - are better off if a few percent of the electorate simply vote consciously for divided government.  Every election. Every time. Without exception.
Dividist Papers Blog Links:  
It's baaaaaack... Divided Government rises from the grave.
Fourteen miles from Tijuana and the border
Related Articles / Papers:  
Divided Government in the American States - American Political Science Review 
America's Missing Moderates - The American Interest February, 2013
Coalition Governments, Divided Governments and Electoral Theory - July, 1991 
Are Voters More Divided than Ever? - Hoover Institute June, 2008 

Book: Divided We Govern

Author: David Mayhew   

Amazon Blurb: "In this prize-winning book, a renowned political scientist debunks the commonly held myth that the American national government functions effectively only when one political party controls the presidency and Congress."  
Excerpt: "This work has tried to show that, surprisingly, it does not seem to make all that much difference whether party control of the American government happens to be unified or divided. One reason we assume it does is that "party government" plays a role in political science somewhere between a Platonic form and a grail... Political parties can be powerful instruments, but in the United States they seem to play more of a role as "policy factions" than as, in the British case, governing instruments... To demand more of American parties - to ask that they become governing instruments - is to run them up against components of the American regime as fundamental as the party system itself... There is the obvious structural component - separation of powers - that brings on deadlock and chronic conflict, but also nudges officials to ward deliberation. compromise, and super-majority outcomes."
Dividist Comment:  There is a pervasive belief that if you want to "get things done" in Congress, whether legislation, investigations, or just promote "change", a single party must control the presidency and both legislative branches to avoid gridlock. It certainly seems intuitively obvious that the the federal government would be more productive if all branches are run by one party. David Mayhew proved this conventional wisdom wrong, at least in the modern era. This book is the seminal work that debunked the notion that the federal government functions more effectively with unified single party control.
Dividist Papers Blog Links:  
Related Articles / Papers:   
Back to the Future: Congress and Divided Control - Roll Call - December, 2006  
Which was the most important U.S. election ever? - Washington Post - Feb, 2012 
The House but not the Senate? - The Hill - November, 2010

The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How To Get It Back On TrackTitle: The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America
Authors: Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
Blurb: "They highlight the dramatic shift in Congress from a highly decentralized, committee-based institution into a much more regimented one in which party increasingly trumps committee. The resultant changes in the policy process--the demise of regular order, the decline of deliberation, and the weakening of our system of checks and balances--have all compromised the role of Congress in the American Constitutional system. From tax cuts to the war against Saddam Hussein to a Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Legislative process has been bent to serve immediate presidential interests and have often resulted in poorly crafted and stealthily passed laws. Strong majority leadership in Congress, the authors conclude, led not to a vigorous exertion of congressional authority but to a general passivity in the face of executive power."
Excerpt: "The arrival of unified Republican government in 2001 transformed the aggressive and active GOP-led Congress of the Clinton years into a deferential and supine body, one extremely reluctant to demand information, scrub presidential proposals, or oversee the executive... The uncompromising assertion of executive authority by President Bush and Vice President Cheney was met with a whimper, not a principled fight, by the Republican Congress."
Dividist Comment:  The crucial point made by Norman Ornstein (historian and author of "Broken Branch") on Hardball in 2006, when we were living under the yoke of Republican One Party Rule is pretty simple really: If you want effective congressional oversight of the executive branch, at least one house of Congress must be held by a different party than the President. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. [This last in response to subsequent Ornstein complaints about Issa's I.R.S. and Benghazi hearings]
Dividist Papers Blog Links:  
Related Articles / Papers:  
When Congress Checks Out - Foreign Affairs and RCP - November, 2006  
The Hill is Alive With the Sound of Hearings - Foreign Affairs - March, 2007 
Can a nation divided really stand?  - AEI - August, 2012
Why Congress is Failing Us  - Brookings Institute - April, 2013

Book: Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government 
Author: Stephen Slivinski 
Blurb: "In chronicling this GOP collapse, Slivinski shows that both revolutions reined in spending early on, and that a small band of congresspersons remained both hard on spending and reelectable. Meanwhile, Slivinski argues that having one party control the White House and the other Congress is more economical--look at Clinton's tenure." 
Excerpt: "United government tends to lead to a 3.4% average annual increase in federal spending in real per capita terms - over double the growth under divided government. In fact, the only post-war years in which we've had a Republican president and Republican Congress - the George W. Bush years - have tended to see faster budget growth than those in which we had united Democratic governments under Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. Yet none of the these united government scenarios on average produced slower growth than most of the divided government scenarios." 
Dividist Comment:  Stephen Slivinski dedicates a chapter of Buck Wild to the benefits of divided federal government. In subsequent updates to the 2006 publication he updated the numbers, showing  that “...between 1965 and 2009, the average growth rate of real per capita federal spending in the divided government years was 1.9%. For the years of united government, that average was 3.1%”.  Slivinski's numbers include the massive increase in spending in the divided government aberration year of  FY 2009 (bracketing the Bush TARP bailout and Obama stimulus) arguably divided governments greatest failure. However, on average, since the GOP took majority control of the House and reinstated divided federal government in 2011, federal spending increases have continued to moderate and  numbers have continued to improve in favor of divided government.
Dividist Papers Blog Links: 
Just Vote Divided - November, 2010 
Disgruntled Conservative Book Club - August, 2006 
Chalk Up Another One for Divided Government - August, 2007 
Related Articles / Papers: 
Would Divided Government Be Better? - Arizona Republic - September, 2006 
Finally, some not so bad news on the budget. - Cato Institute - August, 2007 
Want spending discipline? Wish for gridlock. - The Examiner - September, 2010

Author: Sarah Binder
Blurb: "Gridlock is not a modern legislative condition. Although the term is said to have entered the American political lexicon after the 1980 elections, Alexander Hamilton complained about it more than two hundred years ago. In many ways, stalemate seems endemic to American politics. Constitutional skeptics even suggest that the framers intentionally designed the Constitution to guarantee gridlock. In Stalemate, Sarah Binder examines the causes and consequences of gridlock, focusing on the ability of Congress to broach and secure policy compromise on significant national issues. Reviewing more than fifty years of legislative history, Binder measures the frequency of deadlock during that time and offers concrete advice for policymakers interested in improving the institutional capacity of Congress." 
Excerpt: “In many ways, stalemate, a frequent consequence of separated institutions sharing and competing for power, seems endemic to American politics. Periods of lawmaking prowess are the exception, rather than the norm... Lawmaking is the process by which governments ‘legitimize substantive and procedural actions to reshape public problems, perhaps to resolve them... Some might object that interest in gridlock implies a normative preference for legislative activism and liberal policy change... 
Two factors shaping Congress’s policy performance command attention: the impact of parties and the consequences of bicameralism... 
Bicameralism– rather than the separation of power between the executive and legislative branches– seems most relevant in explaining stalemate in the postwar period. To be sure, both the separation of powers and bicameralism were central to the framers’ late-eighteenth century beliefs about the proper construction of political institutions... If the frequency of deadlock is largely a function of bicameral differences and polarization of the parties, the Congress’s legislative performance is a simple function of electoral outcomes and the evolution of constitutional design. There is little that legislators can do to reduce the barriers to legislative stalemate they typically encounter.... 
To be sure, the notion of ‘fixing gridlock’ can be troubling. One person’s stalemate is another’s preferred legislative outcome.”
Dividist Comment:  In "Stalemate", Sarah Binder seeks to quantify the instances of legislative "gridlock" during periods of divided government and finds a statistically meaningful correlation with a greater frequency of occurrences of gridlock during periods of divided government compared to unified government. This seemingly contradicts David Mayhew's findings in "Divided We Govern" that there is no statistical difference in legislative productivity between periods of divided and unified government in the modern era.  However, Binder and Mayhew are measuring different things. Mayhew compared legislative productivity by looking at major legislation passed and found no difference. Binder included major legislation that failed to pass and found a greater instance during divided government.   
In a 2010 article leading up to the midterm elections, Political scientist John Sides of  George Washington University and The Monkey Cage blog seized on her findings to make the case against divided government: 
"Indeed, the political scientist David Mayhew has found that landmark laws are no less likely under divided government than under unified government. But here's the problem: we can't just count the laws that passed. We have to know what didn't pass. Political scientist Sarah Binder's book Stalemate does exactly that. She measured both the size of the policy agenda and the number of agenda items that failed to be addressed with any enacted law. Divide the latter by the former and you have a measure of gridlock. Binder found that gridlock increases under divided government..." - John Sides
One problem with the Sides/Binder thesis is that it rests on a contrafactual argument: Divided government is bad, it is claimed, because the legislation that passes under divided government is not as good as the quantity and quality of imaginary legislation that we would have gotten under the One Party Rule. This may or may not be true, but is it really meaningful? A careful reading reveals an almost tautological flavor to Side's use of Binder's findings on divided government. He starts with an unstated premise that legislation preferred to enable the activist liberal policy agenda of the Obama adminstration is in fact good legislation and good for America. This premise leads to a conclusion that gridlock is bad, because it prevents the President from getting the legislation he wants.    
This points to another problem that is acknowledged by Binder - to whit: "One person’s stalemate is another’s preferred legislative outcome." The point is that obstructing the overreaching legislative ambitions of the unified single party in power may be the exact reason that the electorate is quick to restore divided government at the ballot box. 
Hence both Binder and Mayhew findings can be correct.  Divided government can be as productive as unified government if the president to a large degree embraces the agenda of the party in opposition. Examples: Nixon administration passing EPA, OSHA, Opening China, Ending Vietnam War;  Reagan administration passing Immigration Reform, Tax Reform with Increase, Strategic Arms reductions; Clinton administration passing NAFTA, Welfare Reform, Balanced Budget.  
Dividist Papers Blog Links:  
Related Articles / Papers:    
Prospects for the 113th Congress  - Huffington Post - January, 2013
Divided Government is bad for Obama  - The Hill - October, 2010 

Blurb: "The problems of ... the accumulation of powerful interests that undermine economic growth and political stability have long been recognized by political scientists and economists. The Case for Gridlock argues that these problems are not inevitable and that a solution exists in reasserting the Constitutional Principle as the foundation for the design and operation of U.S. governmental institutions. The public's interests can prevail over those of organized special interests by returning power to the gridlock-prone institutional arrangement established in the Constitution." 
Excerpt: "A large and growing body of evidence makes it clear that the public interest is most secure when governmental institutions are inefficient decision makers. An arrangement that brings diverse interests into a complex, sluggish decisionmaking process is generally unattractive to special interests. Gridlock also neutralizes some political benefits that producer groups and other well-heeled interests inherently enjoy. By fostering gridlock, the U.S. Constitution increases the likelihood that policies will reflect broad, unorganized interests instead of the interests of narrow, organized groups." 
Dividist Comment: Ethridge shows that when special interests can focus their lobbying efforts and financial resources on a relatively small group of agency administrators, bureaucrats, and Congressional oversight committees they secure outsize influence on policy. Special interest issues take the force of law without going through the messy, slow, inefficient, more transparent and unpredictable Constitutional law-making process that is subject to legislative gridlock. Ironically, by fetishizing legislative efficiency (We just need to "Get things done"), Progressives have opened the door to special interests distorting legislative intent and co-opting their agenda. The unintended consequence of bypassing the inefficient constitutional framework by vesting more power in "fourth branch" agency rule-making, is to make policy more vulnerable to special interests undermining and thwarting the intent of the progressive agenda. 
Dividist Papers Blog Links:  
Related Articles / Papers:  
The Case For Gridlock  - Cato Institute  - January , 2011 

Author: Charles Wheelan
Blurb: "A vision—and detailed road map to power—for a new party that will champion America’s rational center. From debt ceiling standoffs to single-digit Congress approval ratings, America’s political system has never been more polarized—or paralyzed—than it is today. As best-selling author and public policy expert Charles Wheelan writes, now is the time for a pragmatic Centrist party that will identify and embrace the best Democratic and Republican ideals, moving us forward on the most urgent issues for our nation... He outlines a realistic ground game that could net at least five Centrist senators from New England, the Midwest, and elsewhere. With the power to deny a red or blue Senate majority, committed Centrists could take the first step toward giving voice and power to America’s largest, and most rational, voting bloc: the center." 
Excerpt: "Once the Centrists control four or five U.S. Senate seats, the party will hold the swing votes necessary for either the Republicans or the Democrats (including the president) to do anything. The Centrists would be the gatekeepers for the entire federal government... The Centrists would be a small, disproportionately powerful bloc demanding what most Americans are asking for. The Centrist Party could use its fulcrum of power in the U.S. Senate to force Republicans and Democrats to come to sensible compromises on important issues." 
Dividist Comment: The Centrist Manifesto and the Dividist Manifesto outline complementary strategies with compatible objectives. In fact, maintaining a divided federal government is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition to implementing the Centrist Manifesto strategy. If either major party is elected into unified single party control of the executive and both legislative branches of Congress, particularly if they also have a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate - as did the Democrats in 2009 - then a handful of Centrist Party Senators will be as irrelevant as Republicans were in 2009.  Wheelan's Centrist Party senators need divided government to be effective brokers of centrist policy. 
Dividist Papers Blog Links:  
Related Articles / Papers:  

Book: The Federalist Papers
Author: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay
Blurb: "In a brilliant set of essays, John Jay and his colleagues Alexander Hamilton and James Madison explored in minute detail the implications of establishing a kind of rule that would engage as many citizens as possible and that would include a system of checks and balances. Their arguments proved successful in the end, and The Federalist Papers stand as key documents in the founding of the United States." 
Excerpt- Federalist 51: "... the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." 
Dividist Comment:  In Federalist 51, Madison explained the rationale for checks, balances, and the separation of powers designed into our constitutional government.  It is an explicit recognition of the temptations of power and the need for institutional competition to prevent the naked ambition of less-than-angelic leaders from abusing their positions of power and trampling the freedom of the governed. His arguments are equally applicable to voting to maintain a divided government so that single party rule does not undermine these  Madisonian constitutional protections or permit a political majority to run roughshod over the rights and interests of political minorities.
Dividist Papers Blog Links: 
Just Vote Divided - November, 2010 
Disgruntled Conservative Book Club - August, 2006 
Chalk Up Another One for Divided Government - August, 2007 
Related Articles / Papers: 
Federalist #51 By James Madison and/or Alexander Hamilton
Federalist #10 By James Madison 


Authors: Dean Lacy, Emerson Niou, Philip Paolino, Robert A. Rein 
Abstract: "Tests of theories of the electoral origins of divided government hinge on the proper measurement of voter preferences for divided government. Deriving preferences for divided government from voters’ ideological positions or responses to the standard American National Election Studies question inflates estimates of the proportion of people who prefer divided government. We present two alternative survey measures of preferences for divided government and evaluate the measures across multiple surveys. We find that the percentage of voters who prefer divided government is smaller than previous studies suggest. Voters who prefer divided government according to the new measures are significantly more likely than other voters to vote in ways that create divided government in both presidential year and midterm congressional elections.
Excerpt: "Testing whether voters’ preferences for divided government lead them to vote accordingly requires a good understanding of the theoretical nature of these preferences... Voters located just to the right of the Democrats or just to the left of the Republicans may still have ideal points closer to unified Democratic and Republican government, respectively, than to divided government, but some voters, positioned in a subset of the interval between the two parties, will prefer at least one form of divided government."
Dividist CommentThis is exactly what the Dividist has been saying all along. The potential pool of dividist voters are a sliver of the electorate. The numbers are consistent with Cato Studies on libertarianish voters, and other PoliSci research identifying true independents. Because these voters tend to be independent, they tend to cancel each other out. But what this research shows, is that with the organizing principle of voting consistently for divided government, they can become a swing vote that will keep our government divided most, if not all, of the time. And if we keep our government divided, we maintain the integrity of the Framer's intent with Constitutional checks, balances, and separation of power. That is our mission. That is our hope.
Dividist Papers Blog Links: 
Divided Government Detritus and Flotsam - The "Keep Separation of Powers Separate" Edition. - January, 2018 


Authors: Daryl J. Levinson and Richard H. Pildes 
Abstract: "This Article reenvisions the law and theory of separation of powers by viewing it through the lens of party competition. In particular, it points out that during periods of cohesive and polarized political parties, the degree and kind of competition between the legislative and executive branches will vary significantly, and may all but disappear, depending on whether party control of the House, Senate, and Presidency is divided or unified. The practical distinction between party-divided and party-unified government thus rivals, and often dominates, the constitutional distinction between the branches in predicting and explaining interbranch political dynamics. Recognizing that these dynamics will shift from competitive when government is divided to cooperative when it is unified calls into question basic assumptions of separation of powers law and theory. " 
Excerpt: "Strong parties will accentuate the differences between unified and divided government, making constitutional law’s conceptualization of a singular, static system of separation of powers all the more problematic. And when strong parties combine with extended periods of unified government, the challenge to the Madisonian picture of separation of powers, and to the values it is meant to protect, is stark. If the goal is a system of separation of powers that resembles the one Madison and subsequent generations of constitutional theorists imagined, it will have to be built not around branches but around the institutions through which political competition is in fact organized in modern democracies: political parties." 
Dividist CommentAt the risk of oversimplifying, Levinson and Pildes make the case that in the world of real world politics unified and disciplined political control of both the legislative and executive branch renders constitutional separation of powers moot. In their conclusion they offer suggested improvements in the electoral process legislative rules that might ameliorate the deleterious effects of single party control. The Dividist suggests that there is easy fix that can be implemented by the electorate without any legislation, constitutional amendments or political party cooperation. The problem is solved by never electing unified single party control of both the executive and legislative branch.  Given our roughly balanced polarized partisan divide in this country, a relatively small group of committed independent voters consistently casting their vote for divided federal government can correct this constitutional oversight. 
Dividist Papers Blog Links: 
More scholarship & more reasons to vote for divided government. - October, 2006 


Authors: James Alt and David Lassen 
Abstract: "The paper investigates the effects of checks and balances on corruption. Within a presidential system, effective separation of powers is achieved under divided  government, with the executive and legislative branches being controlled by different political parties. When government is unified, no effective separation exists even within a presidential system, but, we argue, can be partially restored by having an accountable judiciary. Our empirical findings show that divided government and elected, rather than appointed, state supreme court judges are associated with lower corruption and, furthermore, that the effect of an accountable judiciary is stronger under unified government, where government cannot control itself." 
Excerpt: "We find that divided government in American states is associated with lower corruption. This confirms the popular perception of divided government as providing a system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches... Institutional separation of powers does not always imply a functional separation of powers if institutional actors can collude, something for which political parties provide a natural forum." 
Dividist Comment: In general we have shied away from divided vs. unified government analysis at the state level to support our case for divided government at the federal government. We make an exception with the Alt / Lassen paper cited here as we think their findings can be appropriately applied to our federal government.  When doing a quantitative statistical comparative analysis of levels of corruption in divided vs. unified government you need a lot of governments to compare, which means either comparing states, or comparing our federal government to other nations with different constitutional frameworks and different definitions of divided government.  Their findings of greater incidents of corruption during periods of unified government comports with common sense and with anecdotal evidence of increased corruption during all recent examples of unified one party rule in Washington D.C. In fact is often the seemingly inevitable corruption that emerges during periods of unified one party rule that is the last straw for voters before a wave election restores divided government. So it was with In 1994 with a wave election the corruption exemplified by Dan Rostenkowski and Speaker Jim Wright. In 2006 it was a reaction against corruption exemplified by Jack Abramoff and Speaker Dennis Hastert. In 2010 it was a reaction against the partisan pork barrel tax, borrow, and spend earmark overreach exemplified by Jack Murtha and the ARRA stimulus.
Dividist Papers Blog Links: 
Third in line - October, 2006 
Broken Government is the disease, Divided Government is the cure  - October, 2006 
Jack Murtha called up to the major leagues - September, 2007 
Pining for earmarks, longing for graft, &fetishizing getting things done. - January, 2014


Justice Antonin Scolia - on exactly why Americans should learn to love gridlock:

"Divided We Stand, United We Fall" by Richard Vedder An analysis of the salutary effects of gridlock vs. non-gridlock government from 1971-1997.
"Divided We Stand United We Fall?" Badger Herald 01/08 editorial - Excellent column by Jason Smathers, a senior majoring in history and journalism at the University of Wisconsin
"Divided We Stand" by Richard Epstein - An election day column in Forbes, and hoping that enough meaningful opposition will be retained in the Senate to moderate the Obama agenda.
"Divided We Stand" Reason Magazine Feb-07 cover story - Excellent retrospective of the divided government meme.
"Divided We Stand, United We Fall" by Dick Meyer - A commentary that makes some bad predictions and a great observation.
"Divided we stand, United we fall" -by Thomas Jefferson - A quote from a letter to Jacob De La Motta, where Jefferson writes the phrase that is the subtitle of this blog.

The Dividist Papers - Reference Posts

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