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Radical American Partisanship

Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes, and the Consequences for Democracy

Radical American Partisanship

Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes, and the Consequences for Democracy

Radical partisanship among ordinary Americans is rising, and it poses grave risks for the prospects of American democracy.
Political violence is rising in the United States, with Republicans and Democrats divided along racial and ethnic lines that spurred massive bloodshed and democratic collapse earlier in the nation’s history. The January 6, 2021 insurrection and the partisan responses that ensued are a vivid illustration of how deep these currents run. How did American politics become so divided that we cannot agree on how to categorize an attack on our own Capitol?

For over four years, through a series of surveys and experiments, Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason have been studying radicalism among ordinary American partisans. In this groundbreaking book, they draw on new evidence—as well as insights from history, psychology, and political science—to put our present partisan fractiousness in context and to explain broad patterns of political and social change. Early chapters reveal the scope of the problem, who radical partisans are, and trends over time, while later chapters identify the conditions that partisans say justify violence and test how elections, political violence, and messages from leaders enflame or pacify radical views. Kalmoe and Mason find that ordinary partisanship is far more dangerous than pundits and scholars have recognized. However, these findings are not a forecast of inevitable doom; the current climate also brings opportunities to confront democratic threats head-on and to create a more inclusive politics. Timely and thought-provoking, Radical American Partisanship is vital reading for understanding our current political landscape.

216 pages | 45 line drawings, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Chicago Studies in American Politics

Political Science: American Government and Politics


"The book makes an important contribution to the growing body of research on what may be becoming the most pressing issue in contemporary American politics: political polarization."


“Kalmoe and Mason’s impressive theoretical insights and evidence on the causes and consequences of radical partisanship make their book the definitive account of violent partisan hostilities in twenty-first-century American politics. With the profound implications of those outstanding analyses exposed for the whole world to see during the January 6 Capitol insurrection, Radical American Partisanship has the potential to be one of the most important political science books in decades.”

Michael Tesler, University of California, Irvine

“This provocative book by two of political science’s rising stars asks readers to consider what only recently would have seemed implausible. Is American democracy on the brink? Will the kind of political violence that most Americans connect to remote outposts in other parts of the world become a feature of our own deeply polarized political system? Readers will find themselves deeply unsettled by Kalmoe and Mason’s evidence and conclusions.”

Marc J. Hetherington, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

“A disturbing analysis of special interest to policymakers.”


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Recognizing Partisan Extremes
Chapter 2. Radical Historical Roots
Chapter 3. Radical Partisan Psychology
Part I. Identifying Radical Partisans
Chapter 4. The Scope of Radicalism
Chapter 5. Trends: Stumbling toward a Breakdown
Chapter 6. Who Are the Radical Partisans?
Part II. Radical Behaviors and the Impact of Conditions and Events
Chapter 7.  From Radical Views to Aggressive Behavior
Chapter 8. Historical Precedents and Reasons for Violence
Chapter 9. Reactions to Election Losses and Violent Events
Part III. Communicating Radicalism
Chapter 10. Words Matter
Chapter 11. The Future of Radical Partisanship: Risks and Opportunities

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