Author (Your Name)

Ian R. BaumFollow

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.


L. Sandy Maisel

Second Advisor

Nick Jacobs


Government shutdowns are a relatively frequent, yet understudied, phenomenon in American politics. To better understand these shutdowns, I present them as competitions between parties in two areas: First, the policy space, in which each party tries to end a shutdown with a policy that coincides with that party’s ideology and; second, the public opinion space, in which each party attempts to win support from the public. I use both qualitative (case studies), and quantitative (formal and statistical models) methods to evaluate shutdowns using this lens. Through my case studies, I found that parties which propose shutdown-ending policies that are close (in ideology) to the status quo fare better—in both policy and public opinion—than parties which propose a major policy change. Additionally, I show through formal and statistical models that the public opinion and policy spaces do not adequately capture the utility maximization of parties during government shutdowns. Rather, parties that instigate shutdowns view them as base mobilization opportunities and show limited regard for aggregate public opinion or the ideological position of the shutdown-ending policy. Still, my results show that shutting down the government is not an effective workaround for parties attempting to circumvent the separation of powers outlined in the U.S. Constitution.


government shutdown, budget, Congress, inter-branch relations, formal models, appropriations