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© Cambridge University Press 2015. The challenges of governing have rarely been greater. The distance between the parties in Congress and between identifiers with the parties among the public is the greatest in a century. The public accords Congress the lowest approval ratings in modern history, but activists allow its members little leeway to compromise. The inability of Congress and the president to resolve critical problems results in constant crises in financing the government; endless debate over immigration, health care, environmental protection, and other crucial issues; and a failure to plan effectively for the future. GOING PUBLIC Modern presidents invest heavily in leading the public in the hope of leveraging public support to win backing in Congress (Edwards 1983, 2004; Kernell 2007). They adopt this strategy for governing at least partly in an attempt to create political capital to overcome the impediments to achieving their policy goals. Highly polarized politics only increases the difficulty of hurdling those obstacles. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence that presidents, even “great communicators,” rarely move the public in their direction. Indeed, the public often moves against the position the president favors (Edwards 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012). Presidents not only fail to create opportunities for change by going public but their efforts at persuading the public also may increase public polarization and thus decrease their chances of success in governing. When political leaders take their cases directly to the public, they have to accommodate the limited attention spans of the public and the availability of space on television. Cable television does not offer the president more opportunities to speak directly to the nation. Cable stations are no more eager than the traditional networks to give up to the White House expensive time slots for which they receive no compensation. Moreover, the audiences for cable news programs are small. The internet does offer the president the opportunity to stream videos to viewers, but true believers, those already supporting the president, make up most of the audience for those videos.
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Solutions to Political Polarization in America