Tug-of-war is a game or contest in which two teams pull hard on the opposite ends of a long rope. Any struggle that feels like this can also be called a tug-of-war.
A figurative tug-of-war can be any situation with two well-matched opponents, like a tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress or a tug-of-war between environmentalists and supporters of the oil industry. This meaning of "a struggle between two equally matched groups" arose in the 17th century, long before the actual athletic competition, which dates from around 1875.
Close your vocabulary gaps with personalized learning that focuses on teaching the words you need to know.