Dynamics of American Democracy

Partisan Polarization, Political Competition and Government Performance

Eric M. Patashnik and Wendy J. Schiller

Democracy is in crisis. Washington is failing. Government is broken. On these counts many politicians, policy experts, and citizens agree. What is less clear is why—and what to do about it. These questions are at the heart of Dynamics of American Democracy, which goes beneath the surface of current events to explore the forces reshaping democratic politics in the United States and around the world.

Bringing together leading scholars and practitioners of politics and governance, this volume charts a twenty-first-century landscape beset by ideological polarization and political tribalism; rapid demographic, economic, and technological change; the influence of online news and social media; and the increasing importance of public attitudes about gender and race. Against this fraught background the authors consider the performance of the two-party system, the operations of Congress and the presidency, and the ways in which ordinary citizens form their beliefs and make their voting decisions. The contributors’ work represents a wide range of perspectives and methodological approaches and provides insight into what ails American governance, from the practice of politics as tribal warfare to the electoral rules that produce a two-party hegemony, and from the impact of social media—including how differently conservatives and liberals use Twitter—to the significance of President Trump in historical and institutional perspective.

“Patashnik and Schiller assemble an all-star cast to cover the landscape of current challenges in American politics. With topics ranging from tribal politics in the age of Trump to states taking a greater role in governance to citizens self-sorting on social media, this volume offers valuable insights and potential paths forward for American democracy.”

—Craig Volden, codirector of the Center for Effective Lawmaking, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, and coeditor of Leadership in American Politics

Dynamics of American Democracy provides a compelling account of the major challenges plaguing contemporary American politics. The superb team of authors provides a wealth of insights into the sources of our polarized politics and its impact on the quality of governance and on the state of American democracy more generally.”

—Eric Schickler, Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Endowed Chair, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932–1965

Finally, Dynamics of American Democracy goes beyond diagnosis to present and evaluate the value and viability of proposals for reforming politics.

About the Author

Eric M. Patashnik is Julis-Rabinowitz professor of public policy and political science and director of the MPA Program, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University.

Wendy J. Schiller is professor of political science and international and public affairs and chair of the Department of Political Science at Brown University.