Copyright

Divided Government: Definition, Effects, Pros & Cons

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Linkage Institutions: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 What Is Divided Government?
  • 1:12 Causes of Divided Government
  • 2:53 Pros and Cons
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels. He has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Divided government occurs when different political parties control different branches of government. We'll look at the causes and effects of this type of government, as well as the pros and cons of a divided government.

What Is Divided Government?

An old joke says, 'If the opposite of pro is con, then the opposite of progress must be Congress.' This cynical joke reflects a common frustration that Americans have with the federal government's seemingly slow and sometimes ineffective nature of conducting business. Quite often, the source of the federal government's inefficiency comes from a phenomenon called divided government.

Divided government occurs when different branches of the federal government are controlled by different political parties. This is possible due to the separation of powers between the executive, or presidential, and legislative, or congressional, branches. For example, a divided government exists when the presidency is controlled by one party (e.g., the Democrats), and Congress is controlled by another party (e.g., the Republicans).

Since the different branches of government have a check on one another, each party has a way of stalling the efforts of the other party. For example, if a Republican Congress passes a bill, the Democratic president can veto, or cancel the bill, thus preventing Republicans from passing the bill. Likewise, the president's initiatives often cannot get adopted because laws have to originate from congressional leaders.

Causes of Divided Government

How, then, do voters choose leaders from one party to be the majority in Congress, but then elect a representative from another party to be president? The answer is complex.

One cause of divided government is the difference in turnout between presidential elections and non-presidential elections. During a presidential election, voters turn out in record numbers and often vote for a single party. During a non-presidential election, however, voter turnout is far lower.

In these non-presidential elections, voters are usually only voting for congressional candidates in an election that is important but not as significant to voters as presidential elections. As a result, the majority of voters who turn out to the polls tend to be those who dislike the president's new policies or are extremely politically engaged. Those who feel just okay about the government aren't likely to show up at polls.

An example of this came during Bill Clinton's first term. In 1992, Clinton won the presidency and his Democratic Party maintained a majority in the Senate and House. But two years later, there was not a presidential election. Instead, there was only a congressional election. Democrats lost the majority of the seats in the House and Senate, creating a divided government. This sudden reversal two years later can, in part, be explained by changes in voter turnout during non-presidential elections.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support