We present a “developmental” approach to understanding why rising polarization in the United States has not been self-correcting but instead continues to intensify. Under specified conditions, initial increases in polarization may change the meso-environment, including such features as state parties, the structure of media, and the configuration of interest groups. These shifts can in turn influence other aspects of politics, leading to a further intensification of polarization. This analysis has four important benefits: () It directs our attention to the meso-institutional environment of the American polity; () it clarifies the features of the polity that have traditionally limited the extent and duration of polarization, and the reasons why their contemporary impact may be attenuated; () it helps us analyze asymmetrical, or party-specific, aspects of polarization; and () it provides an analytic foundation that connects discussions of American politics to the comparative politics literature on democratic backsliding.


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