Reconceptualizing divided government
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In this dissertation, I explain why scholars are unable to conclusively find evidence that divided government is the main determinant of legislative gridlock. I argue this unsettled debate is largely attributable to an imprecise conceptual view of inter-branch tensions, and that these conceptual limitations are exacerbated by unrefined measurement practices. I argue refined measures such as party polarization and gridlock intervals better explain institutional behavior than divided government. Using unique datasets estimating legislator preferences on domestic and foreign policy, findings show that when compared to more refined measures, split-party government is not the sole or even the most important source of partisan conflict. In addition, compared to other studies on divided government, I argue the reason the distinction between unified and divided government is often blurred is that a number of underlying political and institutional pressures make sweeping policy change difficult even for most unified governments. These factors contribute to the public’s growing dissatisfaction with government’s inability to solve many economic and social problems.