The Overton Window outlines a border within which a range of political ideas are deemed acceptable by the public. Originally put forth by Joseph Overton while working for a think tank organization in Michigan. He describes this concept as any political opinion contained within this window can be implemented by a candidate with aspirations to gain or stay in public office. Any politician who voices an opinion outside this range of tolerable policies will see their career met with disapproval and ostracized by the public.
Degrees Of Freedom Within the Overton Window
The Overton Window spans a spectrum of political ideas from “more free” towards “less free.” These ideas are oriented along a vertical one-dimensional axis so as to circumvent any speculation that might arise from the “right” and “left” wing partisan politics. The degrees of freedom along this axis were proposed by political commentator and public policy administrator Joshua Treviño. They are:
Beginning from one end of the spectrum and mirror imaged to the other end of the spectrum along policy. To understand this better, let’s consider absolute freedom as one extreme and absolute control as the other end. It’s Unthinkable that either of those notions will be accepted. Once we start to move in from either end towards the center passing through Radical and Acceptable, we enter the Overton Window. Ideas that lie within this window has the potential to be voted in as policies.
Shifting the Overton Window
The boundaries of the Overton Window can expand or shrink depending on the political climate. Many political activists and in some instances ideologues have campaigned to garner public acceptance of ideas that were outside the window. For example, not too long ago the idea of women voting would have caused a kerfuffle because this concept was outside the Overton Window. But through education and persuasion of the public, voting rights for women have shifted to a matter of policy. Other examples include gay marriage and legalization of marijuana among many others.
History also shows resounding evidence of individuals with radical ideologies shifting the Overton Window to better suite their doctrines. For example, if a political figure wants to shift the entire political thinking of a country to the “left,” he/she will first have to convince other members of his/her party to adhere to “left” wing policies into the realms of the Radical and the Unthinkable. Then gradually the Overton Window will shift towards the “left” as well. What used to be the center of the window now becomes the “right” and so on. A prime example of this was witnessed during the emergence of the Nazi party leading up to the second world war.
Anyone with an inkling of interest in assuming public office should be aware of the Overton Window. In a quickly shifting political landscape, both nationally and internationally, the perimeter of the Overton Window can seem blurry. It is our responsibility to be informed of the policies that our governments propose.