What Is The Overton Window?

Photo by Jonathan Harrison on Unsplash

Hey there!

We live in an age of stark political and social division, nearly instantaneous conflict on social media, and polarizing issues that are hard to find rational discussion.

Whew! And you wonder why some people don’t even want to crack a browser and see what’s going on in the world.

I may have a partial explanation as to why things are so raw these days: we may be spending too much time in the extreme edges of the Overton Window.

Let me explain.

Hope this helps!



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  1. As a political junkie I of course find this topic irresistible. The Overton Window is new to me, though as most pundits today describe our politics, they describe an ever widening window without naming it as such.

    I was also intrigued by the example you offered about SAG-AFTRA. Since I am not in the union I have not been privy to the internal debate. Many would think that because I am not that I do not have a dog in the hunt. To me this only points up how widespread and effective the anti-union propaganda has been over the last few decades. It has been going on so long that an entire generation has matured with no practical reference to judge.

    My first thought when you described the debate over re-segregating the union was, “What makes these folks think that making a union smaller could ever make it more effective at bargaining?

  2. “A long time ago”? You’re making me feel old, David. Joe Overton would have been 59 this year, had he not died in a plane crash in 2003.

    Regardless, I think the value of the Overton Window is not in using it to explain the heat of political division, but in using it to recognize the spectrum of viability of public ideas. More importantly, recognizing that spectrum allows one to use carefully designed rhetoric to “move the Window”–that is, to influence public opinion in the direction of the proposed policy. Ironically, the most effective way to do so is through reasoned civil discourse–the public tends to respond positively to violent protest only the very short term, as in thinking “someone should do something”, whereas civil discourse tends to influence opinions–and ultimately, attitudes–in the long term.