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Bipartisanship, sometimes referred to as nonpartisanship, is a political situation, usually in the context of a two-party system (especially those of the United States and some other western countries), in which opposing political parties find common ground through compromise. Partisanship is the antonym, where an individual or political party adheres only to its interests without compromise.


The adjective bipartisan can refer to any political act in which both of the two major political parties agree about all or many parts of a political choice. Bipartisanship involves trying to find common ground, but there is debate whether the issues needing common ground are peripheral or central ones.[1] Often, compromises are called bipartisan if they reconcile the desires of both parties from an original version of legislation or other proposal. Failure to attain bipartisan support in such a system can easily lead to gridlock, often angering each other and their constituencies. An analysis in The New York Times in March 2010 suggested that the present state of American politics is marked by oppositional politics which has left the voters cynical about the process.[2] Bipartisanship requires "hard work", is "sometimes dull", and entails trying to find "common ground" but enables "serious problem solving", according to editorial writers at The Christian Science Monitor in 2010.[3]

Feature of two-party systems[edit]

According to political analyst James Fallows in The Atlantic (based on a "note from someone with many decades' experience in national politics"), bipartisanship is a phenomenon belonging to a two-party system such as the political system of the United States and does not apply to a parliamentary system (such as Great Britain) since the minority party is not involved in helping write legislation or voting for it. Fallows argues that in a two-party system, the minority party can be obstructionist and thwart the actions of the majority party.[4] However, analyst Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post suggested that partisanship had been rampant in the United Kingdom and described it as "a country in which the government and the opposition glower at each other from opposite sides of the House of Commons, in which backbenchers jeer when their opponents speak." Applebaum suggested there was bipartisanship in Britain, meaning a coalition in 2010 between the opposing major parties but that it remained to be seen whether the coalition could stay together to solve serious problems such as tackling Britain's financial crisis.[5]

Bipartisanship (in the context of a two-party system) is the opposite of partisanship which is characterized by a lack of cooperation between rival political parties.[6] James Madison argued in The Federalist Papers that a danger to democracies were factions, which he defined as a group that pushed its interests to the detriment of the national interest. While the framers of the Constitution did not think that political parties would play a role in American politics, political parties have long been a major force in American politics, and the nation has alternated between periods of intense party rivalry and partisanship, as well as periods of bipartisanship. According to Robert Siegel of National Public Radio, there was virtually no cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. during the few years before 2010.[6]

Bipartisanship can also be between two or more opposite groups (e.g. liberal and conservative) to agree and determine a plan of action on an urgent matter that is of great importance to voters. This interpretation brings bipartisanship closer to the more applied notion of postpartisan decision-making; a solution-focused approach that creates a governance model with third-party arbiters used to detect bias.

It is also argued that bipartisanship exists in policy-making that does not have bipartisan support. This is the case if it involves bipartisan exchanges. This element is a central feature in the legislative process and is a bipartisan concept in the sense that it serves as a mechanism for achieving consensus and cooperation.[7]

In U.S. politics[edit]

There have been periods of bipartisanship in American politics, such as when the Republicans supported legislation by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in the early 1960s, and when Democrats worked with Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.[8] It is claimed that the non-partisanship in foreign policy was a precursor to the concept of modern bipartisanship in U.S. politics. This was articulated in 1912 by President Taft, who stated that the fundamental foreign policies of the United States should be raised above party differences.[9] In recent years, this was also shown in the case of President H. W. Bush's administration, which began with an atmosphere of bipartisanship on foreign policy in Washington. During this period, the concept of bipartisanship implied a consensus not only between the two parties but also the executive and legislative branches of the government to implement foreign policy. This was seen in the article Bipartisan Objectives for American Foreign Policy, authored by Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's Secretary of State, and Cyrus Vance, who was Secretary during President Carter's administration.[10]

In the United States in 2010, however, there was wide disagreement between the Republicans and Democrats because the minority party has been voting as a bloc against major legislation, according to James Fallows in The Atlantic. In 2010, the minority party has the ability to "discipline its ranks" so that none join the majority, and this situation in the Congress is unprecedented, according to Fallows. He sees this inability to have bipartisanship as evidence of a "structural failure of American government."[4] Adviser to President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, said the period from 2008–2010 was marked by extreme partisanship.[11] After the U.S. elections of 2010, with sizeable gains by Republicans in the House and Senate, analyst Charles Babington of the Associated Press suggested that both parties remained far apart on major issues such as immigration and Medicare while there may be chances for agreement about lesser issues such as electric cars, nuclear power, and tax breaks for businesses; Babington was not optimistic about chances for bipartisanship on major issues in the next few years.[12] While analyst Benedict Carey writing in The New York Times agrees political analysts tend to agree that government will continue to be divided and marked by paralysis and feuding, there was research suggesting that humans have a "profound capacity through which vicious adversaries can form alliances," according to Berkeley professor Dacher Keltner.[13]

A call for bipartisanship is often made by presidents who "can't get their way in Congress," according to one view.[14] Military policies of the Cold War and actions like the Iraq War were promoted and supported, through the mass media, as bipartisan acts.[15]


Bipartisanship has been criticized because it can obscure the differences between parties, making voting for candidates based on policies difficult in a democracy.[16] Additionally, the concept of bipartisanship has been criticized as discouraging agreements between more than two parties, thus exercising a tyranny of the majority by forcing voters to side with one of the two largest parties.


  1. ^ Dan Froomkin (April 30, 2009). "What Bipartisanship Is -- and Isn't". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  2. ^ Carl Hulse; Adam Nagourney (March 16, 2010). "Senate G.O.P. Leader Finds Weapon in Unity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  3. ^ Monitor editorial board (October 26, 2010). "After the midterm elections, who will drive bipartisanship?". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  4. ^ a b James Fallows (February 1, 2010). "Why bipartisanship can't work: the expert view". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  5. ^ Anne Applebaum (June 1, 2010). "Can the Brits learn bipartisanship?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  6. ^ a b Robert Siegel (October 21, 2010). "Sen. Cornyn On Bipartisanship, Health Care". NPR. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  7. ^ Rawal, Purva H. (2016). The Affordable Care Act: Examining the Facts. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 6–8, 17–18. ISBN 9781440834424.
  8. ^ John R. Bohrer (September 30, 2009). "Because Bipartisanship Is Dead Until 2011: A Defense of Senate Moderates". HuffPost. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  9. ^ Collier, Ellen (2011). Bipartisanship & the Making of Foreign Policy: A Historical Survey. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation. p. 9. ISBN 9781462844388.
  10. ^ Wright, George V. (1989). African Studies Newsletter, Volume 11. Chico, CA: African Studies Association. p. 53.
  11. ^ Linda Feldmann (June 25, 2009). "Rahm Emanuel redefines bipartisanship". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  12. ^ Charles Babington (November 4, 2010). "Election doesn't end major discord for GOP, Obama". Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 7, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-04 – via Yahoo! News.
  13. ^ Benedict Carey (November 4, 2010). "Cede Political Turf? Never! Well, Maybe". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
  14. ^ Mark Knoller (February 9, 2010). "Obama Says Bipartisanship, But What He Wants Is GOP Surrender". CBS News. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  15. ^ Rhonda Hammer; Douglas Kellner (2009). Media/Cultural Studies: Critical Approaches. Peter Lang. p. 463. ISBN 9780820495262.
  16. ^ Sam Haselby (March 22, 2009). "Divided we stand: The problem with bipartisanship". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-11-02.