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Public Still Prefers One-Party Control to Divided Government

Public Still Prefers One-Party Control to Divided Government

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • A third of Americans say they want single-party government
  • A quarter of U.S. adults prefer divided government
  • Republicans are more likely than in 2016 to want single-party government

This story is part of a series focusing on Americans' confidence in various types of government and their views of the political parties and of the role and power of government. Follow the series on our Government topic page.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One in three Americans favor having the same party control the presidency and Congress (the current situation in the U.S.), while a quarter prefer divided government and 37% say it makes no difference.

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Opinion has shifted since Gallup first asked the public in 2002 about its preference for power sharing in the federal government. Americans leaned toward having "a president who comes from the same political party that controls Congress" from 2002 to 2004, then preferred "a president from one political party and Congress controlled by another" until 2007. Views varied or were divided from 2008 to 2013. In recent years, Americans have moved back toward favoring single-party government.

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While last year's election gave control of the White House and Congress to the Republican Party, ending six years of divided government, attitudes about one-party rule showed only minor change this year.

  • As usual, Americans are more likely to say it makes no difference than to favor either single-party rule or divided government. This has been the case 12 of the 17 times the question has been asked since 2002.
  • None of the three preferences comes close to drawing majority support. The only time as many as 40% have agreed on any of the three viewpoints was in 2010.
  • For the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in six years, Americans prefer single-party rule to divided government.

More Democrats Favor Divided Government Since Trump's Election

Since Gallup began asking this question, supporters of the president's party have been more likely to favor one-party government. In every poll until George W. Bush's term ended, Republicans -- including independents who leaned toward the Republican Party -- were more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to favor single-party government. After Barack Obama was elected president, Democrats became more likely than Republicans to favor single-party government, as was the case in every poll thereafter until Obama's last year in office.

Almost four in 10 Democrats (39%) supported single-party government in 2015 and 2016, the last two years of Obama's presidency. That figure has dropped to 26% now in the wake of Republican Donald Trump's election. The reverse has occurred among Republicans -- 38% favored single-party government last year, while 42% do now.

Supporters of President's Party More Likely to Prefer Single-Party Government
Percentages of Republicans and Democrats during Bush, Obama and Trump presidencies preferring single-party government or divided government -- or saying it makes no difference
  Republicans Democrats
  % %
Bush presidency (2001-2008)  
Prefer single-party government 39 25
Makes no difference 38 33
Prefer divided government 20 37
Obama presidency (2009-2016)  
Prefer single-party government 25 39
Makes no difference 34 38
Prefer divided government 35 18
Trump presidency (2017)  
Prefer single-party government 42 26
Makes no difference 37 36
Prefer divided government 17 31
"Republicans" and "Democrats" include independents who lean toward each party

In recent years when government was divided, supporters of the president's party were more likely to favor one-party government than were supporters of the party controlling Congress. After Democrats won control of both houses of Congress in 2006, while Bush was in office, Republicans were still more likely than Democrats to favor single-party government. After the GOP regained control of the House in 2010, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support single-party government.

Bottom Line

Trump is the fourth consecutive president to take office with his party in control of both houses of Congress. The previous three presidents all left office with Congress controlled by the opposing party, following midterm election losses. No president since 1980 has had a Congress controlled by his own party for a full term of office.

Recent history, along with low approval ratings for Trump and Congress, would seem to indicate that Democrats have a good chance of gaining control of at least one house of Congress next year. Despite sizable percentages of Americans preferring single-party government in recent years, there is a real possibility that could swing in the other direction next year -- as it did preceding midterm elections in 2006 and 2010.

In the broader picture, however, there has been one constant over the years in Americans' attitudes on single-rule vs. divided government: Neither side of the argument has ever won the support of a majority of Americans, and the most common attitude has been that it does not really make any difference.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-10, 2017, with a random sample of 1,022 national adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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