Divided We Govern - Mayhew, David R. - Yale University Press
Political Science

Divided We Govern

Party Control, Lawmaking, and Investigations, 1946-1990

  • David R. Mayhew
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Out of Print.

Winner of the 1992 Richard E. Neustadt Prize given by the American Political Science Association

For generations conventional wisdom has assumed that the American national government functions more effectively when one political party controls the presidency and the two houses of Congress. Yet divided governments of Republican presidents and Democratic Congress such as those of the Reagan and Bush administrations, are increasingly the norm. Should Americans be concerned about divided party control?


In this important book, a renowned political scientist looks systematically at this issue for the first time and concludes that control by one party has not made all that much difference. David R. Mayhew analyzes the performance of every U.S. Congress over the last 44 years as measured by the number of major laws enacted and the incidence of high publicity congressional investigations of the executive branch. He examines hundreds of major laws—from the Taft-Hartley Act and Marshall Plan in 1947-48 to the Clean Air Act of 1990—as well as 31 high-profile investigations including the McCarthy and Fulbright hearings and investigations of Watergate, Iran-Contra, and HUD. He finds that the association of legislative deadlock and aggressive partisan oversight with split party rule is largely wrong; unified as opposed to divided control makes little or no difference in the frequency of major lawmaking or major investigations.


Mayhew asserts that other factors—such as electoral incentives, variations in presidential leadership skill, and public moods—seem to negate conditions of party control in shaping government performance. His demolition of one of the central premises of political science will have great import for the world of scholarship and the world of public affairs.