These are the two biggest themes of this year’s election. How many times have you heard, “this year, the people want change,” or, “the people want the parties to work together to solve our problems.” There is, however, some irony here—change and bipartisanship rarely go together.
Change is best accomplished through one party rule. When one party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, they are most able to facilitate big, broad changes in public policy. The New Deal changes that occurred in the 1930s would be a good example.
When we have divided government, bipartisanship tends to occur out of necessity. The choices are bipartisanship and gridlock, and we usually get some of each with divided government. So with bipartisan rule, change happens more slowly and usually around the fringes of public policy.
Both Obama and McCain can be heard sounding the themes of change and bipartisanship, but with each, we are more likely to get less of one and more of the other. Looking at the current polls, it is virtually impossible for Republicans to gain control of either house of Congress. An Obama presidency, therefore, would lead to one-party rule and provide the best opportunity for change, but with less bipartisanship. With a McCain presidency, on the other hand, change would be more modest, but we would see more bipartisanship.