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American democracy is cracking. These forces help explain why.

Behind the sense that the political system is broken lies a collision between forces both old and new

In a country where the search for common ground is increasingly elusive, many Americans can agree on this: They believe the political system is broken and that it fails to represent them.

They aren’t wrong.

Faced with big and challenging problems — climate, immigration, inequality, guns, debt and deficits — government and politicians seem incapable of achieving consensus. On each of those issues, the public is split, often bitterly. But on each, there are also areas of agreement. What’s broken is the will of those in power to see past the divisions enough to reach a compromise.

The newer element, which has gathered strength in recent decades, is the deepening polarization of the political system. Various factors have caused this:shifts within the two parties that have enlarged the ideological gap between them;geographic sorting that haswidened the differences between red and blue states; a growing urban-rural divide; and greater hostility among individuals toward political opponents.

The result is that today, a minority of the population can exercise outsize influence on policies and leadership, leading many Americans increasingly to feel that the government is a captive of minority rule.
The overwhelming majority of districts now lean strongly either to Republicans or to Democrats. In those districts, that makes the primary election more important than the general election.

Because turnout is generally concentrated among the most fervent voters in primary contests, more extreme candidates have an advantage. This has widened the ideological gap in the House, which makes compromise even more difficult.

The gap between public policy and public opinion is one major consequence of today’s frozen federal government. Three of the most talked-about issues reflect that: abortion, guns and immigration.

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