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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. In multi-partisan electoral systems or in situations where multiple parties work together, it is called multipartisanship. 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.

Bipartisanship in different 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.[2] 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 two opposing 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

Global examples of bipartisan politics[edit]


At the federal level, Canada has been dominated by two big tent parties practicing "brokerage politics".[a][8][9][10] Both the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada (or its predecessors) have attracted support from a broad spectrum of voters.[11][12][13] Although parties such as the Communist Party of Canada, the Quebec-Nationalist Bloc Quebecois, and others, have elected members to the House of Commons, far-right and far-left parties have never gained a prominent force in Canadian society and have never formed a government in the Canadian Parliament.[14][15][6]

United Kingdom[edit]

Although the United Kingdom has an adversarial political system there have often large areas of agreement between the Labour and Conservative parties that have often but not always also brought in the Liberal Democrats. Areas of agreement have tended to include foreign policy and policy towards Northern Ireland. Other questions such as the continued existence of the National Health Service or British membership of the European Union were areas where the parties would tend to agree on the central question but where divided, often sharply, on questions of approach.

There is also a convention within British politics where there are minor areas where there is little partisan cooperation to have formal and semi-secret cooperation facilitated by both parties parliamentary whips and senior civil servants, a process often referred to as the usual channels.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

Until recently politics in the Republic of Ireland had been broadly a two party system with the two main parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both being supported by people from different social classes and political ideologies,[16] with very similar, and centre-right political positioning and a liberal conservative ideology. The reason they remain separate is due mainly to historical factors, with those who supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty in the 1920s eventually becoming Fine Gael, and those opposed would join Fianna Fáil and seek an independent Ireland. In many areas such as openness to Foreign Direct Investment and a stated willingness to incorporate Northern Ireland the broad policies of the two parties were very similar.

United States[edit]

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.

There have been periods of bipartisanship in American politics, such as when Democrats worked with Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.[17], with foreign policy was being seen as an area where bipartisanship was strongest with President Taft, stating that fundamental foreign policies should be above party differences.[18] Military policies of the Cold War and actions like the Iraq War were promoted and supported, through the mass media, as bipartisan acts.[19]

A more partisan tone tended to be taken on domestic policy and this could be sharper at some times such as Barack Obama's presidency with minority parties voting as a bloc against major legislation.[2][20][21] A call for bipartisanship is often made by presidents who "can't get their way in Congress," according to one view.[22]


Bipartisanship has been criticized because it can obscure the differences between parties, making voting for candidates based on policies difficult in a democracy.[23] 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.

Analyst Benedict Carey writing in The New York Times claims 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.[24]


  1. ^ Brokerage politics: "A Canadian term for successful big tent parties that embody a pluralistic catch-all approach to appeal to the median Canadian voter ... adopting centrist policies and electoral coalitions to satisfy the short-term preferences of a majority of electors who are not located on the ideological fringe."[6][7]


  1. ^ Dan Froomkin (April 30, 2009). "What Bipartisanship Is -- and Isn't". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  2. ^ a b James Fallows (February 1, 2010). "Why bipartisanship can't work: the expert view". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  3. ^ Anne Applebaum (June 1, 2010). "Can the Brits learn bipartisanship?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  4. ^ Robert Siegel (October 21, 2010). "Sen. Cornyn On Bipartisanship, Health Care". NPR. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  5. ^ Rawal, Purva H. (2016). The Affordable Care Act: Examining the Facts. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 6–8, 17–18. ISBN 9781440834424.
  6. ^ a b Marland, Alex; Giasson, Thierry; Lees-Marshment, Jennifer (2012). Political Marketing in Canada. UBC Press. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-7748-2231-2.
  7. ^ John Courtney; David Smith (2010). The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Politics. OUP USA. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-19-533535-4.
  8. ^ Brooks, Stephen (2004). Canadian Democracy: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-19-541806-4. two historically dominant political parties have avoided ideological appeals in favour of a flexible centrist style of politics that is often labelled "brokerage politics"
  9. ^ Johnson, David (2016). Thinking Government: Public Administration and Politics in Canada, Fourth Edition. University of Toronto Press. pp. 13–23. ISBN 978-1-4426-3521-0. ...most Canadian governments, especially at the federal level, have taken a moderate, centrist approach to decision making, seeking to balance growth, stability, and governmental efficiency and economy...
  10. ^ Baumer, Donald C.; Gold, Howard J. (2015). Parties, Polarization and Democracy in the United States. Taylor & Francis. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-317-25478-2.
  11. ^ Smith, Miriam (2014). Group Politics and Social Movements in Canada: Second Edition. University of Toronto Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-4426-0695-1. Canada's party system has long been described as a "brokerage system" in which the leading parties (Liberal and Conservative) follow strategies that appeal across major social cleavages in an effort to defuse potential tensions.
  12. ^ Elections Canada (2018). "Plurality-Majority Electoral Systems: A Review". Elections Canada. First Past the Post in Canada has favoured broadly-based, accommodative, centrist parties...
  13. ^ Andrea Olive (2015). The Canadian Environment in Political Context. University of Toronto Press. pp. 55–60. ISBN 978-1-4426-0871-9.
  14. ^ Ambrose, Emma; Mudde, Cas (2015). "Canadian Multiculturalism and the Absence of the Far Right". Nationalism and Ethnic Politics. 21 (2): 213–236. doi:10.1080/13537113.2015.1032033. S2CID 145773856.
  15. ^ Taub, Amanda (2017). "Canada's Secret to Resisting the West's Populist Wave". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Weeks, Liam (2018). "Parties and the party system". In John Coakley; Michael Gallagher (eds.). Politics in the Republic of Ireland: Sixth Edition. Taylor & Francis. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-317-31269-7.
  17. ^ John R. Bohrer (September 30, 2009). "Because Bipartisanship Is Dead Until 2011: A Defense of Senate Moderates". HuffPost. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  18. ^ Collier, Ellen (2011). Bipartisanship & the Making of Foreign Policy: A Historical Survey. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation. p. 9. ISBN 9781462844388.
  19. ^ Rhonda Hammer; Douglas Kellner (2009). Media/Cultural Studies: Critical Approaches. Peter Lang. p. 463. ISBN 9780820495262.
  20. ^ Linda Feldmann (June 25, 2009). "Rahm Emanuel redefines bipartisanship". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Mark Knoller (February 9, 2010). "Obama Says Bipartisanship, But What He Wants Is GOP Surrender". CBS News. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  23. ^ Sam Haselby (March 22, 2009). "Divided we stand: The problem with bipartisanship". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-11-02.
  24. ^ Benedict Carey (November 4, 2010). "Cede Political Turf? Never! Well, Maybe". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-04.