Discussion of divided government usually begins with the United States: it was the country in which analyses of the phenomenon started; there is a large and growing literature on divided government in America, and this is a literature that can stimulate similar research on other political systems. It has been a common form of political arrangement at the federal level of politics for over 160 years, and it also occurs frequently in state government. The factors that have brought about divided government have changed over time, and the ways of managing its effects have also varied both between the state and federal level and over the years. This means that there are a number of different kinds of relationship between the two branches of government that have developed, and this is of importance for comparative analysis. This chapter concentrates mainly on the federal level of government, although some attention is also given to the state level. It considers the impact of structural and institutional factors in bringing about divided government, before examining the effects of changes in electoral behaviour at that level. The third section of the chapter focuses on how divided government is managed at federal and state levels. First, I shall examine the extent to which divided government has been evident at the federal level.
It is widely agreed that a competitive party system, consisting of two well-organized parties, had become established in the US by the second half of the 1830s. Both the Democrats and the Whigs had built up mass organizations by the end of that decade, and, for the purposes of this chapter, the beginning of the era of competitive party politics is taken to be the election of 1836. Between the elections of 1836 and 2000 (exclusive) there were eighty-two national elections—forty-one for the presidency and Congress, and a further forty-one mid-term elections for the Congress. Of these eighty-two elections,