Americans' Preference Shifts Toward One-Party Government

A record-high 38% of Americans prefer that the same party control the presidency and Congress, while a record-low 23% say it would be better if the president and Congress were from different parties and 33% say it doesn’t make any difference.

While Americans tend to lean toward one-party government over divided government in presidential election years, this year finds the biggest gap in preferences for the former over the latter and is a major shift in views from one year ago.

These findings are based on Gallup’s annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 6-9. The data show an increased level of support for one-party rule amid a currently divided government in which the Democrats control the presidency and the Senate, while the Republicans control the House. This suggests many Americans are experiencing divided-government fatigue.

Opinions on divided government have fluctuated over the years. When one party controlled both Congress and the presidency in 2006 and 2010, Gallup found near-historical lows supporting one-party rule. This suggests Americans may simply tend to prefer what they don’t have or see problems in whatever the current situation is. At least one chamber of Congress changed hands in the subsequent elections, and the increase in support for one-party government in 2008 foreshadowed an election that would give the Democrats sole control of the presidency and both houses of Congress.

Just once, in 2005, have a plurality of Americans preferred divided government since Gallup began asking this question, indicating division at the federal level is rarely popular. The “makes no difference” response has generally been the most popular, though support for it fell this year to tie the lowest level Gallup has found.

Democrats More Likely to favour Same-Party President and Congress

Democrats (49%) are now more likely than Republicans (36%) or independents (28%) to favour one-party government. There may be several reasons for this. Democrats currently control the presidency and many Democrats may be frustrated that President Barack Obama cannot enact his legislative agenda without the help of a sympathetic Congress. Also, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to express faith in the federal government’s ability to handle domestic problems. Insofar as politically unified executive and legislative branches ease the passage of laws and the implementation of policies designed to solve national problems, Democrats would view this as a positive development. Republicans also favour one-party control over divided government, but by a smaller margin of 36% to 27%. Independents are split in their preferences between one-party (28%) and divided (30%) government.

Democrats’ preference for unified government rose significantly this year — to 49%, compared with 35% last year. Independents also became more favourable to one-party government this year, up seven percentage points compared with 2011. Republicans did not see a significant change.

The uptick in Democrats’ preference for one-party government reflects a pattern in which members of the president’s party have the strongest desire for one-party government when an incumbent is competing for a new term. In 2004, when President Bush and a Republican Congress stood for re-election, Republican voters preferred unified over divided government, 59% to 18%. Democrats in contrast preferred divided government (42%) to one-party government (37%). This is perhaps because the Republicans looked likely to hold on to Congress regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, and so Democrats saw the prospect of a Democratically controlled government as unrealistic. Now, with President Obama running for re-election, Democrats clearly prefer one-party government to an even stronger degree than they did in 2008, when both parties favoured one-party government over divided government by significant margins, 47% to 37% for the Republicans and 47% to 40% among Democrats.


Americans are more supportive of one-party government now than previously, including presidential election years. This is mainly due to a surge in Democrats’ preference for unified party control of government, as President Obama seeks a second term after dealing with a Republican-controlled House the last two years. Republicans also prefer unified government rather than divided government this year.

As the 2012 election approaches, these findings suggest that Americans may be somewhat less open to ballot splitting than in prior years. At the same time, support for one-party government typically increases in presidential election years, and the surge in Democrats’ preferences may reflect their growing enthusiasm about the election more broadly.

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