Divided Governance Remains the Rule

Article excerpt

A REPUBLICAN president. A Democratic Congress. It's been the American way for most of the last 22 years - but does it make sense?

The American public thinks so. Survey after survey shows that by approximately a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe it is better to have Republicans in control of one branch of government and Democrats in control of the other.

That could be one reason Democrats have trouble occupying the Oval Office, while Republicans make little progress on Capitol Hill.

Morris Fiorina, a Harvard professor who has studied this American phenomenon, says voters probably don't intentionally "put a ball and chain around George Bush's ankle by voting for Democratic congressmen."

But it does work out that way.

Russell Ross, who recently retired as a political scientist at the University of Iowa, says he thinks many voters decide: m going to vote for a good, solid, liberal Democrat here in the House and Senate, but I'm going to put the executive branch in control of the Republican Party." He concludes: "I think they like and enjoy divided government."

Two other analysts take issue with that view, however.

Hugh Winebrenner, a professor at Drake University, says the public's so-called affinity for divided government is "a creation of the media.... It may be true, but it's unsubstantiated."

Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, debunks the notion that people walk into the polling booth with the idea that government should be divided. He explains:

"People very clearly think about different issues when they think about the presidency than when they think about Congress. The things they think the president does are things they think Republicans are better at. …