The Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government: A Postwar Assessment

The Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government: A Postwar Assessment

The Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government: A Postwar Assessment

The Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government: A Postwar Assessment


Can presidents hope to be effective in policy making when Congress is ruled by the other party? Political scientist Richard Conley brings to this crucial discussion a fresh perspective. He argues persuasively that the conditions of divided government have changed in recent years, and he applies a rigorous methodology that allows the testing of a number of important assumptions about party control of the legislative process and the role of the president.

Conley demonstrates that recent administrations have faced a very different playing field than those in the earlier post-war years because of such critical developments in electoral politics as decreasing presidential coattails and the lack of presidential popularity in opposition members' districts. Moreover, he identifies several changes in the institutional setting in Congress that have affected both the legislative success rates of presidents' programs and the strategies presidents pursue. These institutional factors include more assertive legislative majorities, changes in leadership structure, and increased party cohesion in voting.

Conley uses both case studies and sophisticated time-series regression analyses to examine the floor success of presidential initiatives, the strategies presidents use in working with the legislature, and the use of veto power to achieve presidential aims.

Scholars of the presidency and those interested in the larger American political process will find in this book both food for thought and a model of analytic sophistication.


Split-party control of the presidency and Congress—divided government—has occurred just over six out of every ten years since 1946. Surely the permanence of divided government for all but two short years between 1981 and 2000 argues for the need to theorize about the impact of party control of Congress on the modern presidency. As Paul Quirk and Bruce Nesmith assert: “Whether the president and the majority in Congress have compatible ideological and electoral goals or conflicting ones almost certainly matters somehow. the question is how.”

Scholars have not sufficiently explored or analyzed how presidents have approached leadership of Congress under single- or split-party control of national institutions. Analyses of the impact of divided government have tended to focus either on the electoral causes or on questions of legislative productivity without a thorough specification (or consideration) of the president’s role in lawmaking. Allegations that split-party control naturally contributes to policy deadlock have not withstood empirical scrutiny. Yet the scholarly preoccupation with gridlock has obscured an appreciation for the precise ways in which party control of Congress has affected the exercise of presidential legislative leadership differently across time.

This book attempts to fill this void, using a close comparative analysis with an emphasis on presidents who have faced divided government since 1945. the analysis focuses on presidential strategies and successes in the domestic policy realm. the domestic and foreign policy realms are sufficiently different to warrant separate examination.

Party control of Congress does matter for the legislative presidency, but the impact has been highly uneven in the postwar era. the central argument of this book is that electoral contexts and institutional circumstances in Congress have produced substantial variation in presidential leadership strategy and success in the legislative realm. the conceptual framework for the study lays emphasis on the considerable differences in the exercise of legislative . . .

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