International Organization


Divided government and U.S. trade policy: theory and evidence

Susanne Lohmanna1 and Sharyn O'Hallorana2

a1 Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

a2 Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York.


If different parties control the U.S. Congress and White House, the United States may maintain higher import protection than otherwise. This proposition follows from a distributive politics model in which Congress can choose to delegate trade policymaking to the President. When the congressional majority party faces a President of the other party, the former has an incentive to delegate to but to constrain the President by requiring congressional approval of trade proposals by up-or-down vote. This constraint forces the President to provide higher protection in order to assemble a congressional majority. Evidence confirms that (1) the institutional constraints placed on the President's trade policymaking authority are strengthened in times of divided government and loosened under unified government and (2) U.S. trade policy was significantly more protectionist under divided than under unified government during the period 1949–90.