Why are we so polarized?

August 26, 2021  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

We are living through a time of intense conflict in what seems like every part of society – online, on TV, and in our communities. You’re not imagining it. So, on this episode of the Value of Leadership, we ask: Why are we so polarized? 

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, surveyed Americans’ attitudes across 30 political values such as guns, race, climate, immigration, and foreign policy. The average gap between Democrats and Republicans on these hot button issues was 39 percentage points. And things don’t seem to be getting any better when it comes to finding common ground. In the summer of 2020, another study by Pew reported that 77% of Americans said the country was now more divided than before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But division isn’t an issue solely owned by the United States. The rise in populism, old and new cultural conflicts, and economic hardships have all intensified polarization and conflict across the world. What led us to these deep divisions? Is it human nature or a product of systems we’ve created? How are social media and information echo chambers contributing? 

One thing is clear – to solve our greatest challenges people need to work together across differences.

To discuss how we get there, we’re turning to experts on how people and communities transcend divides. Amanda Ripley is an investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author. Her latest book High Conflict is an exploration of what happens when people get locked in seemingly intractable feuds and how they’ve broken free. Amanda is joined by Eric Liu, co-founder, and CEO of Citizen University. He also directs the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship & American Identity Program: home to an initiative that trains people in how to have what they call: “better arguments.”  To learn more about High Conflict and Amanda’s other work visit and for more on the Better Arguments project, visit

This conversation comes from the stage at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum. It is moderated by Rima Maktabi, London Bureau Chief of Al Arabiya news, and Fellow of the Middle East Leadership Initiative – Over the past 20 years, Rima’s covered conflicts across the Middle East, making her no stranger to the topic of this dialogue. 


About The Value of Leadership

The Value of Leadership is a podcast from the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN). AGLN’s mission is to develop authentic, high-integrity leaders. People who are committed to proactively confronting societal challenges, individually and collectively, in order to create a more just, free, and equitable society. And Fellows are putting their values to work all across the globe. To learn more about the network and the work of our Fellows, visit And explore more episodes of the Value of Leadership here.