FACT CHECK: ‘Since 1968, No Period Of Unified Government Control Has Lasted Longer Than 4 Years’

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro claimed that periods of one-party government have not lasted for more than four years since 1968.

Verdict: True

No party has controlled the House, the Senate and the White House for longer than four years at a time in the last five decades. Unified government was far more common prior to 1968.

Fact Check:

Shapiro made the claim after the 2018 midterm elections, in which Democrats gained enough seats to take control of the House. Republicans have controlled both chambers of Congress and the presidency since President Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017.

“Transfers of power like this are totally normal,” Shapiro said on his podcast Nov. 7. “Since 1968, no party has held all – the House, the Senate and the presidency for more than four years.”

He’s not the only one to make such a claim. “Since 1968, no period of unified government control has lasted longer than 4 years,” Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for National Review, tweeted a day earlier.

The Daily Caller analyzed congressional records and found that the longest streaks of unified government in the last 50 years lasted four years each.

Democrats had unified control during Jimmy Carter’s presidency from January 1977 to January 1981, while Republicans had unified control from January 2003 to January 2007 under President George W. Bush.

Republicans briefly enjoyed one-party rule upon Bush taking office in January 2001, but their razor-thin majority in the Senate was lost that June after Vermont Sen. James Jeffords left the Republican Party to caucus with the Democrats. Other periods of unified government include the current session of Congress, with Republicans in control, as well as two periods of Democratic control – 1993 to 1995 and 2009 to 2011.

Political scientists refer to the period since 1968 as the “era of divided government,” as the two parties have had to share power for roughly 35 of the last 50 years.

However, government hasn’t always been so divided.

Voters opted for unified government in 30 out of 36 national elections from 1896 to 1966, according to James Campbell, a professor of political science at the University at Buffalo.

American history is marked by periods where one party held a clear and lasting majority. In fact, Republicans had 14 years of uninterrupted government control under Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. Starting with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrats also retained unified control for a 14-year stretch.

“The parties are now much more evenly split,” Campbell told TheDC in an email.

Why has divided government become so much more common?

Richard Conley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, says it may have something to do with dissatisfaction among midterm voters. “The outparty, whoever that is, has more of an incentive to go and register complaints with the incumbent, majority party,” he told TheDC.

Eighty-five percent of the midterm elections from 1968 to 2018 have resulted in divided government, compared to 54 percent during presidential election years.

Other theories include split-ticket voting, where a voter may choose one party for the presidency and another party for representation in Congress. This practice has declined in recent decades.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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