The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2020)
A government trifecta is a political situation in which the same political party controls the executive branch and both chambers of the legislative branch in countries that have a bicameral legislature. The term is primarily used in the United States, where the term originated—being borrowed from horse race betting—but also in Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and France.
Most countries and all democracies have some degree of separation of powers into separate branches of government, typically consisting of an executive, a legislative, and a judicial branch, but the term government trifecta is primarily applied to countries in which the executive is not elected by the legislature (In parliamentary systems, the executive [or part of it] is elected by the legislature and must have the support of the majority of Parliament).
Government trifectas are seen as beneficial by some and as undesirable by others. Those in favor argue that government trifectas are efficient and avoid gridlocks. Opponents argue that trifectas discourage policing of those in power by the opposition and that they do not limit spending and the expansion of undesirable laws. Opponents also argue that government trifectas do not tend to lead to compromise since one party can simply implement its goals unopposed. Consequently, the incumbent party may alter the structure of executive agencies to prepare for when it is bound to lose its incumbency. These alterations are performed to secure control over the agencies for when the party is no longer incumbent. Examples of these include political appointments that extend beyond the political cycle, contract or grant awards, and debt issuances.
The situation is common in developing nations but rare in developed ones. Early in the 20th century, for example, government trifectas were common in the United States, but they have become increasingly rare since the 1970s.
Government trifectas are contrasted by divided governments—a situation in which one party controls the executive branch while another party controls one or both houses of the legislative branch.
In systems that use fusion of powers and where the executive has to rely on the confidence of the legislature, the executive is almost always composed of members of the party or coalition that controls the lower house of the legislature, essentially creating a situation where there always is a government trifecta, assuming the upper chamber is in the same party's control.[a] If there is no government trifecta a legislature may pass a motion of no confidence to force the government to resign, thereby giving the legislature the power to create a government trifecta and making government trifectas not as significant compared to systems that use separation of powers, since one has to wait for a new election to establish or abolish a government trifecta.
The term is used in Australia, where the government level consists of the government (lead by the Prime Minister and Cabinet) and the Parliament with two chambers (the House of Representatives and the Senate).
Because of the coattail effect, most newly elected presidents have a majority with them in both chambers of Congress. The six-year itch conversely means that the last two years of a two-term president rarely have trifectas. The most recent federal trifecta is currently held by the Democratic Party since 2021, and the last one before that was by the Republican Party from 2017 to 2019.
State government trifectas
A visual representation of US state government trifectas over time:
- Although there is not one single party that controls the House of Lords, there always is a de facto government trifecta in the United Kingdom due to the fact that the monarch can appoint whoever they please as a Lord or Baroness, which is almost always done on the advice of the prime minister, thereby giving the prime minister the ability to take control of the House of Lords. The House of Commons can also pass some legislation without the approval of the Lords by using the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949.
- "Would Divided Government Be Better?". Cato Institute. Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
- Moe, Terry (1989). "The Politics of Bureaucratic Structure". Retrieved 2016-05-04.
- "Ballotpedia: Who Runs The States".
- "2018 election analysis: State government trifectas - Ballotpedia". Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 7, 2018.