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

  • Susanne Lohmann (a1) and Sharyn O'Halloran (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2009

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.

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