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Home ยป US Midterm Elections: What Is Divided Government And What’s The Impact?

US Midterm Elections: What Is Divided Government And What’s The Impact?

Image source, Reuters

Image caption, The Democrats currently control all three branches of government – but that could change after the US midterms

With both parties vying for control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, a “divided government” remains a distinct possibility in the US.

The term refers to a situation where one or both chambers of Congress are controlled by a party that stands in opposition to the incumbent president.

Divided governments have been fairly common since the 1970s – most recently during Donald Trump’s second term, where Democrats controlled the House.

What would such a situation mean when it comes to passing legislation and getting things done?

In the US, each chamber can initiate legislation. A version of the draft bill has to be passed by both, before being sent to the president to sign into law.

A bill can die at any stage if one chamber of Congress votes against it, or if the president vetoes the law.

Some people support a divided government because it means each political party can police the other, for instance controlling unwanted spending measures or blocking certain bills from become law.

Recently, Elon Musk advised his millions of Twitter followers to vote Republican in the midterms, given that President Joe Biden is a Democrat.

His rationale, he said, was that “shared power curbs the worst excesses of both parties”.

Divided governments can force lawmakers to draft laws that have a broader base of support, making them harder to undo when power power changes hands. In this situation, co-operation brings about political stability.

But when parties are polarised in their positions, a divided government can make it impossible for one party to pass legislation, leading to gridlock – effectively making it difficult to move forward on policy.

Big sweeping policy changes, however, have often happened under single-party government, such as President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare.

Divided governments can also lead to more government shutdowns – where parties cannot agree a budget to continue government funding.