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Polarization has become a prevalent phenomenon in contemporary American politics. Partisan division, both among the public and political elites, has consumed American democracy, transforming a political system dependent on compromise into one suffused by political hostility, gridlock, and dysfunctional democratic governance. Scholars of American politics have long studied the causes of polarization and its consequences for the policymaking process. In recent years, the subject has also gained increased attention from international relations scholars and U.S. foreign policy analysts. According to most observers, polarization has developed into a severe threat to U.S. national security as it undermines support for the grand strategy of liberal internationalism that has guided U.S. foreign policy in the post-World War II era. This special issue brings American politics and international relations scholars together for a systematic investigation of the trend lines and consequences of domestic polarization for U.S. foreign policy and global power. Despite major international challenges, such as the rise of China, a resurgent Russia, terrorism, climate change, or pandemics, we perceive polarization as the most serious threat to U.S. global leadership. In particular, polarization has deep effects on the domestic institutions involved in foreign policymaking and the sustainability of America’s global position. The special issue consists of articles assessing the decline of the ideological center in American politics and the distribution (and political representation) of foreign policy ideas; changes to the institutions involved in U.S. foreign policymaking, namely Congress and the president; as well as the consequences of domestic polarization for the conduct and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy. Collectively, this special issue provides the most comprehensive look to date at the nature, extent, and implications of polarization on U.S. foreign policymaking and execution.

Articles in this collection include:

Gordon Friedrichs and Jordan Tama, “Polarization and U.S. Foreign Policy: Key Debates and New Findings”

Dina Smeltz, “Are We Drowning at the Water’s Edge? Foreign Policy Polarization among the US Public”

Sarah Maxey, “Finding the Water’s Edge: When Negative Partisanship Influences Foreign Policy Attitudes”

William Bendix and Gyung-Ho Jeong, “Beyond Party: Ideological Convictions and Foreign Policy Conflicts in the US Congress”

Patrick Homan and Jeffrey S. Lantis, “Foreign Policy Free Agents: How Lawmakers and Coalitions on the Political Margins Help Set Boundaries for U.S. Foreign Policy”

Bryan W. Marshall and Patrick J. Haney, “The Impact of Party Conflict on Executive Ascendancy and Congressional Abdication in US Foreign Policy”

James Bryan and Jordan Tama, “The Prevalence of Bipartisanship in U.S. Foreign Policy: An Analysis of Important Congressional Votes”

Shannon Carcelli, “Congressional Polarization and Limitation Riders in Foreign Aid Appropriations”

Zachary A. McGee and Sean M. Theriault, “Partisanship in Congressional Travels Abroad”

Florian Böller, “Brakeman or Booster? Presidents, Ideological Polarization, Reciprocity and the Politics of US Arms Control Policy”

Gordon Friedrichs, “Polarized We Trade? Intra-Party Polarization and U.S. Trade Policy”

Carrie A. Lee, “Polarization, Casualty Sensitivity, and Military Operations: Evidence from a Survey Experiment”

Rachel Myrick, “The Reputational Consequences of Polarization for American Foreign Policy: Evidence from the U.S.-U.K. Bilateral Relationship”