Talking Politics: How Americans and Germans Communicate in an Increasingly Polarized World

talking politics cover


On both sides of the Atlantic, political polarization has been a subject of intense study and debate. In the United States, Donald Trump’s populist rhetoric and policies — from hardline immigration enforcement to his attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act — have enraged and galvanized the left, with tensions running deep.

In Germany, centrist parties like Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their coalition partners, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have been losing support; voters have become disenchanted with the compromises the parties have made in recent years. This apathy has given way to success on the fringes: the far-right AfD took home an unprecedented 12.6 percent of the vote in the 2017 federal elections, winning over 90 seats in the Bundestag.

Although it is easy to take the existence of political polarization for granted, we wanted to better understand what it looks like on the ground. Do Americans and Germans speak to people they disagree with? Which political topics are considered acceptable for public conversations? Which topics are taboo?

We believe that understanding what polarization looks like and what it means on a day-to-day basis in both the United States and Germany is critical to combatting the problem and finding ways to bridge the divide. This survey examines the shared German and American trend of polarization in order to gain a better understanding of its meaning. We hope that the results are enlightening and instructive.

As part of the research of political polarization in the United States, we visited Birmingham, Alabama to discuss the topic.

See how Americans discuss their political environment, how they “talk politics” with friends and family, and what they think about political issues in a polarized time.


Emily Hruban
Manager, Transatlantic Relations