Navigating the legislative divide : polarization, presidents, and policymaking in the United States

Beckmann, Matthew N. and McGann, Anthony J. (2008) Navigating the legislative divide : polarization, presidents, and policymaking in the United States. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 20 (2). pp. 201-220. ISSN 0951-6298

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Abstract

Polarization hallmarks contemporary Washington's political landscape. While an increasing literature examines the factors propelling this schism, theoretical work investigating its consequences has just begun. Building from a simple bargaining model in which an exogenous actor (e.g. the president) strategically allocates scarce 'political capital' to induce changes in legislators' preferences, we examine how varying the chamber's preference distribution affects the policies that result. Instead of mining presidents' preferred policies in gridlock, the model shows that ideological polarization - in the form of a bimodal distribution - can actually enable a president to pass policies closer to his ideal than would have been possible under greater ideological homogeneity.