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Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government

A Postwar Assessment

By Richard S. Conley

Publication Year: 2003

Can presidents hope to be effective in policy making when Congress is ruled by the other party? Political scientist Richard Conley brings to this crucial discussion a fresh perspective. He argues persuasively that the conditions of divided government have changed in recent years, and he applies a rigorous methodology that allows the testing of a number of important assumptions about party control of the legislative process and the role of the president. Conley demonstrates that recent administrations have faced a very different playing field than those in the earlier post-war years because of such critical developments in electoral politics as decreasing presidential coattails and the lack of presidential popularity in opposition members’ districts. Moreover, he identifies several changes in the institutional setting in Congress that have affected both the legislative success rates of presidents’ programs and the strategies presidents pursue. These institutional factors include more assertive legislative majorities, changes in leadership structure, and increased party cohesion in voting. Conley uses both case studies and sophisticated time-series regression analyses to examine the floor success of presidential initiatives, the strategies presidents use in working with the legislature, and the use of veto power to achieve presidential aims. Scholars of the presidency and those interested in the larger American political process will find in this book both food for thought and a model of analytic sophistication.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership


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p. xi


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pp. xiii-xiv


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p. xv

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Introduction: Party Control and Presidential Leverage in Political Time

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pp. 3-43

Split-party control of the presidency and Congress—divided government—has occurred just over six out of every ten years since 1946. Surely the permanence of divided government for all but two short years between 1981 and 2000 argues for the need to theorize about the impact of party control of Congress on the modern presidency. ...

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1. The Legislative Presidency and Eras of Congress: A Longitudinal Analysis

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pp. 44-83

From the perspective of political time, several qualitative changes in presidential leverage are evident in the modern era. First, compared to the early decades following World War II, divided government entailed a considerable decline in presidential-congressional concurrence in the closing decades of the twentieth century. ...

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2. Truman, Eisenhower, and Divided Government

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pp. 84-109

In the 1940s and 1950s, whatever the partisan configuration of national institutions, the omnipresence of the conservative coalition in Congress is the common thread of the period. Presidents’ ability to manage this voting alignment, set the legislative agenda, and influence legislative outcomes pivoted on the strength of their institutional position and the policy activism of the governing majority in Congress. ...

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3. Nixon and Divided Government

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pp. 110-125

Several puzzles are inherent in Richard Nixon’s first term under divided government in the liberal activist era. The first is the extraordinary production of innovative legislation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nixon’s presidency forms an important component of the “bulge in the middle” of lawmaking since the end of World War II.1 ...

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4. Reagan and Divided Government

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pp. 126-141

Upon taking the oath of office in 1981, Ronald Reagan offered his view of the ills that beset the country. “It is no coincidence,” the president contended in his inaugural address, “that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.” ...

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5. Bush, Clinton, and Divided Government

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pp. 142-166

George Bush and Bill Clinton faced opposition majorities in Congress in the second half of the postreform/party-unity era. Although they came to the Oval Office under different party affiliations and with very different policy objectives, their general legislative strategy bore some striking similarities. Bush and Clinton had very low leverage to set the legislative agenda. ...

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6. Kennedy, Johnson,and Unified Government at the Crossroads of Eras

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pp. 167-189

The type of legislative leadership John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson were able to exert diverged wholly from presidents who faced opposition majorities in the postreform/party-unity era. Their agenda leadership—not efforts to block congressional initiatives or wield the veto power to alter legislation—defined their legislative presidencies. ...

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7. Carter, Clinton,and Unified Government in the Postreform/Party-Unity Era

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pp. 190-213

Jimmy Carter’s and Bill Clinton’s legislative presidencies are frequently noted for what they failed to achieve rather than what they accomplished.1 Writing of Carter’s first two years, David Mayhew observes that “despite Democratic majorities of 62–38 in the Senate and 292–143 in the House,” the 95th Congress “proved to be a cemetery for liberal aspirations.”2 ...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 214-221

At the end of this journey through presidents’ experiences under unified and divided party control of national institutions we are now in a better position to return to the two fundamental issues posed in the introduction. The first goal was to reconcile the normative claims of party government advocates about the importance of unified government for presidential leadership with chief executives’ actual legislative records. ...

Appendix A: Mayhew’s Significant Domestic Laws

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pp. 223-231

Appendix B: Modeling Congressional Support for the President

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pp. 233-235

Appendix C: Presidential Position Votes,80th House

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p. 237


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pp. 239-257


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pp. 259-273


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pp. 275-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446815
E-ISBN-10: 1603446818
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585442119
Print-ISBN-10: 1585442119

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 36 tables., 12 charts.
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Joseph V. Hughes Jr. and Holly O. Hughes Series on the Presidency and Leadership
Series Editor Byline: Pfiffner, James P. See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 53971202
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • Political parties -- United States.
  • Divided government -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
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