The adjective bipartisan can refer to any bill, act, resolution, or other 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. 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. 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.
According to political analyst James Fallows in The Atlantic, 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. 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.
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. Framer 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 has been virtually no cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. during the few years before 2010.
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.
There have been periods of bipartisanship in American politics, such as when the Republicans supported legislation by Democratic President Johnson in the early 1960s, and when Democrats worked with Republican President Reagan in the 1980s.