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University Of Maryland Civic Engagement Expert Explores Political Division in American Life

Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, the new book by Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz seeks to understand the far-reaching impact of polarization on a nation in turmoil


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College Park, MD – As the 2024 presidential race ramps up, “The Power of Partisanship,” a new book co-authored by University of Maryland (UMD) civic engagement expert Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, explores how political polarization seeps into personal decisions, social interaction and one’s willingness to take life-altering risks.

Released in the summer of 2023, the book from Pearson-Merkowitz (hailing from UMD’s School of Public Policy) and co-author Joshua J. Dyck reveals how partisanship extends beyond politics, shaping choices and interactions. From consumer behavior to healthcare choices, the influence of partisanship has unprecedented implications, fostering a climate of bitterness and negativity and distorting information processing.

“Partisan elites need to take their power seriously and realize that partisanship is a tool. It can be used to give voters choices and understand meaningful differences in policy approaches. It can help overcome the problem of collective action both in legislatures and in the public. But, just as a hammer can be used to build or to destroy,” warn Pearson-Merkowitz and Dyck, “the power of partisanship can also be wielded in both productive and destructive ways.”

The book delves into the reasons behind escalating partisanship. Americans prioritize partisan allegiances over their beliefs as political elites polarize, making them vulnerable to intentional manipulation. The book challenges long-held stereotypes of political “Independents”, finding they are often more receptive to information gained through their daily lives and social interactions than strong partisans. Given how important this type of information is to challenging misinformation, independents turn out to be more open and reasonable than strong partisans, they find.

Highlighting real-world examples, the book shows how partisan polarization affects even life-saving measures like responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors call for responsible handling of partisanship by political elites and urge a shift towards stability over partisan interests.

Available at Oxford University Press, major book retailers and online platforms.

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Civic Engagement

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