Divided Government and Democratic Presidents: Truman and Clinton Compared



    1. Assistant professor of political science at the University of Florida. His research interests include presidential-congressional relations. He is currently working on a book manuscript about the impact of divided government on the legislative presidency.
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  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article is a revised version of a paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Tucson, AZ, March 1997. The author thanks Roger Davidson, Eric Uslaner, and the anonymous reviewers of Presidential Studies Quarterly for helpful commentary at various stages of this research.


This article compares the experiences of President Truman in the 80th Congress and President Clinton in the 104th Congress. The impact of divided government is measured by examining presidential involvement on significant legislation in the two periods, presidential floor success rates, and congressional support for the president on domestic policy and veto override attempts. The article concludes that innovative legislation in both periods was largely congressionally driven, while voting alignments in Congress ultimately affected each president's ability to control policy outcomes through the use of the veto. Regional fragmentation in the Democratic Party and Republican unity combined to undercut Truman's ability to marshal strong support on his legislative stands or on veto override attempts, contributing to a series of successful anti–New Deal measures. Democratic Party cohesion in the 104th Congress allowed Clinton to ward off veto override attempts and stifle much of the Republican agenda outlined in the Contract with America.