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How Americans Were Driven to Extremes

In the United States, Polarization Runs Particularly Deep

U.S. President William Clinton, a Democrat, next to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, two Republicans, April 1995 Stringer / Reuters

Every day brings more evidence of the United States’ profound political polarization. Partisan intransigence, vitriol, and divisiveness now contaminate most government institutions. What is more, these sentiments have steadily infiltrated every nook and cranny of American life. The 2020 presidential campaign will only further intensify the country’s partisan tribalism. And despite the lofty praise that news media and civil society heap on politicians who work across party lines, the divisive trend continues with no end in sight.

The more than 35 books published on this subject in the past decade have shed much light on partisan dynamics. Yet almost without exception, they examine U.S. polarization as an isolated phenomenon, separate from the experiences of other countries. In our research and advocacy work, we have taken a different tack.

Collaborating with scholars from around the world, we have examined the striking rise of severe polarization in numerous other democracies, including Bangladesh,

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