Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 13 > Issue 2

Is Divided Government a Cause of Legislative Delay?

Patricia A. Kirkland, Vanderbilt University, USA, patricia.a.kirkland@vanderbilt.edu , Justin H. Phillips, Columbia University, USA, jhp2121@columbia.edu
Suggested Citation
Patricia A. Kirkland and Justin H. Phillips (2018), "Is Divided Government a Cause of Legislative Delay?", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 2, pp 173-206. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00017041

Publication Date: 23 May 2018
© 2018 P. A. Kirkland and J. H. Phillips
Lawmaking,  Legislatures
Legislatureslawmakingstate politics


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In this article:
Divided Government and Legislative Performance 
Reevaluating the Causal Link 
Looking for Heterogeneous Effects 


Despite the compelling theoretical prediction that divided government decreases legislative performance, the empirical literature has struggled to identify a causal effect. We suspect that a combination of methodological challenges and data limitations are to blame. Here, we revisit this empirical relationship. Rather than relying on traditional measures of legislative productivity, however, we consider whether divided government affects the ability of lawmakers to meet critical deadlines — specifically, the ability of state lawmakers to adopt an on-time budget (as mandated by state law). By focusing on delay instead of productivity we avoid measurement problems, particularly the challenges inherent in measuring the supply of and demand for legislation. To assess the causal effect of divided government, we develop and implement a regression discontinuity design (RDD) that accounts for the multiple elections that produce unified or divided government in separation of powers systems. Our RDD approach yields compelling evidence that divided government is a cause of delay. We also evaluate and find support for a new hypothesis that divided government is more likely to lead to delay when the personal and political costs that stalemate imposes on politicians are low.