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The midterm elections are approaching during one of the most polarized moments in recent American politics.
A collaborative research project I led on polarized democracies around the world examines the processes by which societies divide into political “tribes” and democracy is harmed.
Based on a study of 11 countries including the U.S., Turkey, Hungary, Venezuela, Thailand and others, we found that when political leaders cast their opponents as immoral or corrupt, they create “us” and “them” camps – called by political scientists and psychologists “in-groups” and “out-groups” – in the society.
In this tribal dynamic, each side views the other “out group” party with increasing distrust, bias and enmity.
Perceptions that “If you win, I lose” grow. Each side views the other political party and their supporters as a threat to the nation or their way of life if that other political party is in power.
For that reason, the incumbent’s followers tolerate more illiberal and increasingly authoritarian behavior to stay in power, while the opponents are more and more willing to resort to undemocratic means to remove them from power.
This damages democracy.
Are Americans now stuck in animosity and anger that will undermine democracy, or can the nation pull out of it?