Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Is divided government good or bad for the country?

November 30, 2010 by Dr. Steve Frank


With this post Constitution Daily introduces a new feature: The Opinion Lab. These topical posts are aimed at teachers, students and life-long learners who are interested in testing the variety of opinions surrounding an issue in the news against their own judgments.


We’ll provide some brief background on the topic and six opinions that capture various aspects of the debate. After you have read the post and weighed the six opinions, you can let us know which one comes closest to your view, or better yet, formulate your own opinion and share it with us.


A note to teachers: You can use the Opinion Lab in your classrooms by having students read the issue summary and asking one or more students to list the opinions provided on the board for the class to discuss. Then select a student to lead a 10 minute class discussion that elicits the opinions of his or her classmates.


Today’s issue: Is divided government good or bad for the country?


The Republican victories in the 2010 midterm elections have the nation wondering whether divided government will create more incentive for Democrats and Republicans in Washington to compromise, or deepen partisan divisions.


Divided government comes about when one party controls the White House and the other controls either or both chambers of Congress. In recent decades it’s been more the norm than the exception. For more than 21 of the past 30 years Washington has been split between the parties.


The Republican victories in November ended two years of Democratic control of the White House and Congress. Some people find hope for bipartisan accord in the fact that both parties now bear some responsibility for getting things done in Washington. Others see the election results as a recipe for legislative gridlock.


Is divided government good or bad for the country?



GOOD                                                                BAD


Power sharing creates incentives to compromise. With both   parties responsible for governing, they each have a stake in getting things done.

The surest way to get things done in Washington is to have   all the levers of power at your disposal to push through legislation.


Because legislation needs support from both parties to   pass, policy is pushed to the center where pragmatic solutions to problems   are found.


The need for bipartisan support is a prescription for   halfway measures and small-bore initiatives that won’t solve the big problems   facing the nation.


Divided government forces the administration to govern   from the center, which is the only way to produce sustainable bipartisanship.


Divided government empowers the congressional party to   launch investigations of the administration, which deepens partisan rancor   and creates legislative gridlock.


What’s your opinion?


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