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Divided, But on What? Parties, Preferences, and Policy Stasis

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  • Trinity University
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Abstract

Prominent accounts of American politics posit both partisan and preference-based conflict as sources of policymaking dysfunction, but empirical tests rarely adjudicate between these accounts. In this paper, we examine the relative importance of these sources in the context of divided government and policymaking in the U.S. states. Using a new dataset of state-level gridlock intervals, we compare the role of preference-based gridlock to other, non-preference-based sources of policy stasis. Re-examining a variety of outcomes explored in existing studies of divided government, we find that, apart from a few exceptions, preference-based gridlock appears not to be the primary mechanism through which divided government affects the policymaking outcomes we examine. This study highlights the importance of understanding the mechanisms through which partisan differences operate when positing solutions to policy stasis in the United States.
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