In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned on “hope and change” and an end to partisan bickering in Washington, D.C. In 2012, Mitt Romney is campaigning on a similar theme; that Obama was not able to cure extreme partisan conflict but that he (Romney) is the man to do it.
Regardless of who wins the presidency, gridlock most likely will continue, and with it, the further erosion of public trust in government.
The U.S. Senate currently sits at 53 Democrats (including an Independent and Independent Democrat who caucus with Democrats) and 47 Republicans; meaning Republicans would have to pick up three seats if Romney wins (tie-break would go to Vice-President Paul Ryan), or four seats if Romney loses.
Republicans face competitive races in Indiana and Massachusetts, will most likely lose a seat in Maine, and now face an uphill battle in knocking off once vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Montana and Missouri.
If Romney wins, he is unlikely to have the Senate in his favor (complicated further by the increasing use of the filibuster to conduct all matters of Senate business).
In the U.S. House, the division is 193 Democrats and 242 Republicans; most analysts agree that Democrats are unlikely to win the necessary 25 seats to take control of the chamber, meaning if Obama wins he will still have to contend with House Republicans.
Existing research suggests unified (or one-party) control of government is not a guarantee cure for gridlock, nor does divided government necessarily result in bad governance. Instead, it can cause factions within a party to push harder for more extreme policies, causing conflicts with more moderate members and leading to less productive government.
But while the governing process may survive, positive public sentiment toward government may not.
The latest numbers from Gallup show that approval of Congress has increased 11 percentage points over the last two months. The optimism behind such an increase quickly fades when looking at the raw data; approval of Congress stood at just 10 percent in August, and now registers at a whopping 21 percent.
Survey research tells us that disapproval of Congress is largely the result of the perception of constant bickering and an inability to compromise to get things done. Don’t expect this to change after Election Day or over the next four years.
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This post was written by Chris Larimer on November 5, 2012