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The global pandemic, the attack on the U.S. Capitol, an assassination attempt on a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice, and the issues that led to an estimated 42,347 protests between January 2017 and January 2021 are not, in and of themselves, threats to American democracy. A lack of solutions to the problems that underpin these events are threats. The authors of this Perspective discuss how political polarization can affect democracy and public policy. They propose that the functioning of democracy depends on a healthy discourse about considerations that affect public policy and that this discourse is driven increasingly by ideology rather than analysis rooted in data and facts. The authors organized workshops to find areas of consensus among participants holding different views about political partisanship writ large and four policy-specific issues: mis- and disinformation, election security, extremism, and immigration reform. The goal of these workshops was to identify areas of consensus and actionable solutions. This Perspective presents some proposed solutions, and potential data sources to evaluate these solutions, to problems related to the four policy-specific issues. The authors have synthesized their workshop conversations, adding citations from relevant research literature to provide scholarly context for the various policy facets they explored.

This project is part of the RAND Corporation's continuing program of self-initiated, independent research. The research was conducted by the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program within the RAND Homeland Security Research Division.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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