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Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock



Critics of American politics have long lamented legislative stalemate as an unfortunate byproduct of divided party government, charging that it brings unnecessary conflict, delays, and ineffective policies. Although the term gridlock is said to have entered the American political lexicon after the 1980 elections, legislative stalemate is not a modern invention. Alexander Hamilton complained about it more than two centuries ago.In Stalemate, Sarah Binder examines the causes and consequences of gridlock, exploring the ways in which elections and institutions together limit the capacity of Congress and the president to make public law.Binder illuminates the historical ups and downs of policy stalemate by developing an empirical measure to assess the frequency of gridlock each Congress since World War II. Her analysis weaves together the effects of institutions and elections, and shows how both intra-branch and inter-branch conflict shape legislative performance.Binder also explores the consequences of legislative gridlock, assessing whether and to what degree it affects electoral fortunes, political ambitions, and institutional reputations of legislators and presidents alike. The results illuminate what she calls the dilemma of gridlock: Despite ample evidence of gridlocks institutional consequences, legislators lack sufficient electoral incentive to do much about it.Binder concludes that, absent a sufficient motivation for legislators to overcome the dilemma of gridlock and to redress the excesses of stalemate, legislative deadlock is likely to be a recurring and enduring feature of the landscape of national politics and policymaking.By putting conclusions about the politics of gridlock on a more sure-footed empirical basis, this systematic account will encourage scholars and political observers to rethink the causes and consequence of legislative stalemate.

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