Divided government—when one political party controls the White House and the other controls one or both houses of Congress—has appeared more frequently in recent decades. Before 1968, the government was unified more often than it was divided. Not surprisingly, there’s little consensus on whether divided government, like the one we have now, is a problem or a blessing for our country. On one hand, it keeps the majority party in check, and on the other, it can cause legislative gridlock. Straight Arrow News contributor John Fortier says we may need to fix our political process, but not upend it, as we head into budget and debt ceiling negotiations later this year.
It is sometimes not easy to see, but stepping back from the day-to-day controversies, America is in an extraordinary era of closely divided politics. We are a 50-50 nation. This close competitive competition between the two parties leads to many negative reactions, from frustration about the tone of politics and the inability to get things done to more extreme criticisms that our system is rotten to the core and needs fundamental change.
Today, I will cover three themes: first, how extraordinary our recent era is compared to past history; second, some of the benefits of our competitive system; and third, a focus on some of the more practical problems that closely divided politics leads to.
First, because we are in the middle of it, it is hard for us to see how unusual our politics is compared to the sweep of American history.
In the 28 years since 1994, Republicans have held the presidency for 12 years to Democrats’ 16. Republicans have controlled the Senate for 16 years to Democrats’ 12. The House is less equal with Republicans holding the chamber for 20 years to Democrats’ eight. And in almost every election, parties believe that they can take control of the House, Senate or presidency.
We have had two 50-50 Senates and now we sit at 51-49. The current Republican House majority is narrow. And for 20 of the last 28 years, the minority party in the House has had at least 200 seats. In this current era, the largest popular vote margin of victory has been 8.5 percentage points. Compare that to 12 victories of more than 10 points in the 20th century.
Compare this to earlier eras. From 1930 to 1994, Democrats held the House of Representatives for 60 of the 64 years. The era prior to the New Deal era was a strongly Republican one, with Republicans winning 14 presidential elections to Democrats’ four…