Our founding fathers set-up a system of checks and balances to help restrain the federal government from becoming too powerful. A secondary benefit emerges when opposing political parties control the varying levers of power—including the House of Representatives, Senate or White House.
While a divided government makes it harder for a President to push their agenda, the structure acts as a moderating force and blocks the most extreme policies of either side from being adopted. Legislation that does pass must include compromise and cooperation among the political factions.
Major reforms tend to be more successful when both sides get a seat at the table and all voters have a voice. For example, tax policies championed by the Republican Reagan administration in 1981 and 1986 were approved by a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. And major reforms in telecommunications and welfare were enacted by a Republican Congress and approved by President Clinton, a Democrat.
History suggests divided governments also spend less. When no one party is given the greenlight to go on a shopping spree and allocate money to fund all of their priorities, taxpayers generally have a smaller bill to cover. The U.S. is also typically less likely to launch a major war because Congress acts as a check on Presidential power, which can save money and lives.
Divided governments can cause gridlock in Washington, which can be frustrating. But history has shown us that divided governments aren’t all bad and can even be beneficial.