Divided Government: America is Not “Exceptional”


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    America is thought to be an exceptional political system, and, in many of its particulars, it certainly differs from the institutional arrangements found in most of the world's democracies. Its separation‐of‐powers regime is thought to have spawned, in recent decades, the phenomenon of divided government in which partisan control of political institutions is divided between the major parties. By implication, it is suggested that this robust regularity in which Democrats control the legislature and Republicans the executive is a consequence of its institutional arrangements and, therefore, distinguishes America from its parliamentary counterparts elsewhere. In this article, the authors suggest that parliamentary regimes, too, experience divided government. Specifically, minority governments, in which the executive is controlled by parties that, between them, control less than a legislative majority, is the closest analogue to divided government in America. In each case, the executive needs to seek support in the legislature beyond its own partisan base. Thus, divided government per se does not distinguish parliamentary and separation‐of‐powers regimes. What does, however, are the constitutional roots of this phenomenon: divided governments are negotiated in parliamentary regimes whereas they are mandated electorally in separation‐of‐powers regimes.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)250-269
    Number of pages20
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jul 1991

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Public Administration
    • Marketing


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