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Study Notes


AQA, Edexcel, OCR

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Gridlock can be defined as the situation that arises when legislation faces difficulties in being passed due to different party control in the legislature or executive.

To apply the concept of gridlock to the United States, it can occur in two places. Firstly if the House of Representatives and Senate are controlled by different parties, then the passage of legislation will be difficult. The second instance is when Congress happens to be united under one party, yet the Presidency is controlled by the opposing party. This second instance happens far more than the first, but both instances can cause the passage of legislation to be slow.

Gridlock tends to occur far more when parties are polarized. This essentially means that when the ideological gap between Democrats and Republicans is wide, far less legislation will get passed. The opposite is true, if the ideologies of the parties are closer, or both parties have a significant number of 'moderate' congressmen, which can create a majority.

It has been argued by some scholars that the US Constitution was specifically designed to not only allow gridlock but increase the chances of its occurrence. The basis of this claim is that gridlock would ensure that all policy decisions were supported by a broad base as it would have to appeal to a wide range of opinions and views. This is then backed up through the electoral system created through differing term lengths, specifically relating to the Senate. With only a third of the Senate being elected at any one time, it is inevitable that any change to the ruling party in the Senate would be slow. Contrasted to the House which can change hands in a night, this situation almost invites legislative gridlock into US Politics permanently.

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