Monday, August 8, 2011

Voters Lack Preference for Divided Government

Hendrik Hertzberg presents an interesting essay in The New Yorker. In the piece, Hertzberg refutes Obama's recent statement:

“Voters may have chosen divided government,” President Obama said Tuesday, just after signing the debt-limit bill, “but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.”

Hertzberg suggests that voters actually prefer united not divided government -- specifically a government that is united under the banner of the political party they support. To choose divided government, means engaging in "split-ticket" voting, a practice that most voters -- many of whom rely primarily on heuristic cues when making political decision making  -- don't actually engage in on a regular basis. 

Rather as Hertzberg and political scientists Barry Burden and David Kimball argue (in a more academic fashion in their 2002 book), divided government is a result of the political system rather than the preferences of voters. 

Specifically, the changing dynamics of the political campaign environment, the blurring lines between the political parties, and the cyclical shift from large-scale general elections to midterm Congressional elections with lower rates of voter turnout all contribute to the reality of divided government. 

At the same time, voters really dislike dysfunctional government, especially in the wake of the debt ceiling debate. With 82% of Americans expressing disapproval for Congress in the most recent CBS/New York Times Poll (the highest level of disapproval since the question was first asked in 1977), it looks like Democrats and Republicans alike will need to use the recess to connect with voters at home. 

The question remains, will voters renew their faith in Congress even in this time of divided and dysfunctional government?

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