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The Dynamics of Legislative Gridlock, 1947-96

Sarah A. Binder
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 93, No. 3 (Sep., 1999), pp. 519-533
DOI: 10.2307/2585572
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2585572
Page Count: 15
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The Dynamics of Legislative Gridlock, 1947-96
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Abstract

David Mayhew's Divided We Govern (1991) sparked an industry of scholars who alternately challenge or confirm the work on theoretical and empirical grounds. Still, we lack a definitive account of the proportions and causes of legislative gridlock. I revisit the effects of elections and institutions on policy outcomes to propose an alternative theory of gridlock: The distribution of policy preferences within the parties, between the two chambers, and across Congress more broadly is central to explaining the dynamics of gridlock. To test the model, I construct a measure that assesses legislative output in proportion to the policy agenda. Using newspaper editorials to identify every salient legislative issue between 1947 and 1996, I generate Congress-by-Congress gridlock scores and use them to test competing explanations. The results suggest that intrabranch conflict-perhaps more than interbranch rivalry-is critical in shaping deadlock in American politics.

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