Jaime Settle, a member of the SSRC Media & Democracy program’s advisory board, discusses her new book in the latest contribution to Democracy Papers. In Frenemies: How Social Media Polarizes America, she takes a deep look at how political information spreads on social media, emphasizing the importance of seemingly unpolitical posts and of exposure to the political opinions of people with whom we share only weak social ties.
Jordan Tama, an awardee of a Negotiating Agreement in Congress grant (a component of the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program) identifies an intriguing anomaly: greater bipartisanship in the US Congress on foreign policy than domestic issues. Tama examines the different forms this aisle-crossing may take—sometimes in broad opposition to the president’s policy preferences, and at other times when intraparty factions unite across party lines. He sees ideology, interest group politics, and institutional incentives as the key sources for foreign policy bipartisanship, and concludes with how these dynamics are playing out in the Trump administration.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Michael Zürn explores the roots of authoritarian populism. He argues that authoritarian populist politics is an expression of a new political cleavage: between cosmopolitans and communitarians. This cleavage emerged in the wake of post–World War II grand bargains to tame the class conflict and is a response to increasingly influential nonmajoritarian institutions with a cosmopolitan orientation.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Thomas Zittel explores when and how polarization becomes a cause for democratic anxiety. He argues that polarization over traditional policy issues is not in itself harmful, and can even be beneficial for democracies. However, he warns that polarization in which parties become divided over the acceptable rules of the game is a problem for democracies. Unfortunately, this latter type of division is increasingly common on both sides of the Atlantic today.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Sarah E. Anderson, Daniel Butler, and Laurel Harbridge-Yong discuss the importance of closed-door negotiations for successful legislative compromise. Using experimental data collected from state legislators, the authors demonstrate that lawmakers expect private negotiations to result in successful compromises more often than public negotiations. These results are part of a project funded through the Anxieties of Democracy “Negotiating Agreement in Congress” grants program.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Jan-Werner Müller argues that attention to right-wing populist movements gaining attention in Europe and the United States can both over- and underestimate their political importance and impact. For Müller, such movements are best understood not by their “anti-elitist” tendencies, but rather by their antipluralist claims to represent the “real people.” He also emphasizes how the rise of right-wing populism is inseparable from the degree to which they are enabled by more mainstream conservative parties, and refers to Austria as a counterexample in which the mainstream right rejected populist extremism.
In this new contribution to the Democracy Papers, Elisabeth Clemens discusses what she calls the “(mis)alignment of social and political geography” in the United States as an unrecognized source of democratic anxiety. Taking an historical perspective, Clemens traces the increasing distancing of citizens and lived communities from infrastructures and geographies of governance. “Antistatism, federalism, and repeated redistricting,” she argues, render opaque the identification of “effective channels of influences or … responsibility for good or bad governing.”
Armin Schäfer reflects on what populism’s rise in Europe and the United States implies for how we view social class as a basis for voting and political partisanship. Drawing on recent studies, Schäfer shows growing disaffection among the working classes in established democracies concerning their sense of their ability to influence the policy decisions that affect them. Other research provides some evidence that the working class perceives their lack of political efficacy correctly—governing institutions respond far more to the preferences of the wealthy. In such a context, populist anger points to genuine democratic deficits.
Rarely do we get a sense of how conservative white working class Americans view the civic competence of urban-based liberals. Katherine Cramer provides such a perspective in this Democracy Paper, building on the extensive research for her book on rural Wisconsites with follow-up visits during the 2016 election campaign and the early days of the Trump administration. Cramer finds a very deep and mutual lack of faith, a chasm that makes the possibility for building alliances, or even dialogue, across polarized groups a difficult one.