Divided government is a very widespread political phenomenon, but one which from a comparative perspective remains remarkably understudied. In academic terms, most analyses of divided government have focused on the United States (US). Indeed, since the call was made to study the so-called 'new era of coalition government' (Sundquist, 1988) in the US, academics have 'responded enthusiastically' (Fiorina, 1996 : p. vii) to the challenge. As a result, there is now a considerable body of top-quality work on the subject (for example, Fiorina, 1996 ; Jacobson, 1990 ; Mayhew, 1991). By contrast, little attention has been paid to the concept in other arenas. Shugart notes that 'there seems to be no literature specifically devoted to divided government in other presidential systems' (1995 : 327). In a similar vein, von Mettenheim asserts that 'debate about divided government in American politics has yet to gain widespread influence among comparative political analysts' (1997 : 9). Equally, the aim of Laver and Shepsle's path-breaking article is merely to 'start a conversation aimed at promoting a unified rather than a divided discussion' (1991 : 252) of the concept in both presidential and non-presidential regimes. This book adds another voice to this, still somewhat stilted, dialogue. It shows that the concept of divided government is understood differently by different people, but also that the applicability of the concept is not confined to the US and that its counterpart can be found both in other presidential regimes and in parliamentary and semi-presidential regimes as well. Put simply, it provides the first systematic study of divided government from a comparative point of view.
This chapter serves as an introduction to the comparative study of divided government. Its first part examines the concept of divided government and identifies two ways in which the concept is commonly understood. The second part of the chapter introduces the study of divided government in practice. It focuses, first, on the debate about the causes of divided government and, second, on the political management of divided government. As such, it provides a framework for the case-study chapters which follow.