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Overton window

Page type: Sociocultural
Category: Politics

Catering to the political audience



overton_graph.png
A visualization of the Overton window
The Overton Window is a concept named after lobbyist Joseph Overton[1], used to label the range of ideas seen as acceptable in the current political discourse within a specific country[2].

As society evolves over time, the Overton window shifts. Themes which used to be considered unthinkable become a mainstream part of the political discourse, while some formerly popular opinions become unthinkable.

For example, supporting same sex marriage used to be considered unthinkable in most countries until the early 21st century[3], to the point where even progressive political parties had to oppose it or risk losing votes. Following decades of fighting for LGBT rights, the Overton window has shifted in many countries, in which opposing same sex marriage has become a radical or even unthinkable thought.



overton_usa.png
Evolution of the USA's Overton window from the 1980s to the 2020s

Moving the window



As the Overton window is in constant movement, most politicians will move along with it, avoiding any excessively controversial topics in order to reach the largest audience possible. This means that if the position of the Overton window is somehow made to move within a country, most of the country's political spectrum will also eventually follow the movement.

Thanks to the rise of social media, it has become easier than ever to reach wide audiences. This means that individuals hold more power than ever in their attempts to move the Overton window. It can be exploited by bad faith actors through astroturfing[4]: anyone with large amounts of influence or disposable money can attempt to move the Overton window in their preferred direction, even using disinformation and propaganda if necessary[5].

Moving the window on an individual level is no easy task, but there is a way to do it: simply stand outside of the window and pull it in your direction[6]. Any small attempt can have an effect if enough people do it, from online activism and education to taking part in political demonstrations and direct action.



Sources & Links



[1] How an obscure conservative theory became the Trump era's go-to nerd phrase , by Politico.

[2] How the Politically Unthinkable Can Become Mainstream , by the New York Times.

[3] The 1970s push for same sex marriage acceptance , by Slate.

[4] The disinformation age , a study on the power of astroturfing and fake news in shifting public opinion.

[5] Measuring context change to detect statements violating the Overton window , a study showing how German media manipulated the Overton Window by spreading hate during the 2015 refugee crisis .

[6] How to shift the Overton Window by Conceptually.

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Page last modified 209 days ago
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