Is divided government a cause of legislative delay?

Patricia A. Kirkland, Justin H. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Despite the compelling theoretical prediction that divided government decreases legislative performance, the empirical literature has struggled to identify a causal e ect. 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 a ects 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 e ect 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-206
Number of pages34
JournalQuarterly Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • 10.1561/100.00017041
  • Lawmaking
  • Legislatures
  • State politics


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