Divided Government and U.S. Trade Policy

By Susanne LohmannSharyn Ohalloran
1992| Working Paper No. 1201

We develop a distributive politics theory of delegation and accomodation in U.S. trade policy. Congress may choose to delegate trade policymaking authority to the president in order to implement more efficient and less protectionist trade policy outcomes. However, under divided government, the majority party in Congress may be better off constraining the president’s use of delegated authority. A constrained president is forced to partially accomodate Congressional demands fro more protection._x000B__x000B_We provide empirical support for our theory with two findings. First, the institutional constraints placed on the president’s trade policymaking authority are strengthened in times of divided government and loosened under unified government. Second, U.S. trade policy is significantly more protectionist under divided than under unified government in the time period 1949-1988.