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 t 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 in each Congress since World War II. Her analysis weaves together the effects of institutions and elections, and shows how both intrabranch and interbranch 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.
Sarah Binder is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and an associate professor of political science at George Washington University. Her previous books include Minority Rights, Majority Rule: Partisanship and the Development of Congress (Cambridge University Press, 1997) and (with Steven S. Smith) Politics or Principle: Filibustering in the United States Senate, (Brookings, 1997).