The Issue of Wedge-Issues

The noted semi-pro source, Wikipedia defines a political “wedge issue” as ” […]a social or political issue, often of a divisive or otherwise controversial nature, which splits apart or creates a ‘wedge’ in the support base of one political group.”

That I can’t immediately think of a wedge-issue Democrats have used to attract GOP voters (or independent voters) or to suppress GOP voting (by cheating fair and square, as opposed to legislating voter-suppression) probably only means I haven’t been paying attention; it could also mean that the GOP is simply better at using wedge-issues. They seem to be better at a lot of things associated with campaigning. In a moment, I will take a stab at identifying a Demo-wedge-issue, however.

It most certainly also means that my definition of a wedge-issue would be limited to those issues that–however they are decided, and they may have already been decided–they will not materially affect the lives of the voters whom are wedged.

My favorite example is “gay marriage,” which the GOP, by putting the issue on state ballots, has used as a wedge issue. There I am, voter X, a man married to a woman. For whatever reason, I oppose gay marriage. So I find myself leaning toward the GOP on this issue and in general because the issue is on the ballot this time. The proposition on the ballot will outlaw gay marriage, but maybe gay marriage isn’t even legal in my state. Moreover, even if it were legal, how would two gay men’s getting married materially affect my life? And what if other things proposed by the GOP were going to affect my life negatively? I might ignore all that because I’m quite emotional about the wedge-issue. So the tactic has not just peeled me away from the Democrats; it has pulled me away from my own self-interest–arguably.

One probably could argue, with some good reason, that what the Dems call “the war on women” is a wedge-issue designed to attract Independent and Moderate-GOP voters–of all genders. However, if for the moment we use my narrower definition of “wedge issue,” a reasonable counter-argument might be that, if I live in a state that has passed the mandatory invasive-imaging law governing women who go to a clinic that offers abortion, I am voting based on something that could, if I am a woman, materially affect my life and other women’s lives. And men’s. Many fathers of women must be appalled by this law.

Such a situation doesn’t make the Democrats less cynical than the GOP, of course, and I mention this example chiefly to highlight the difference between a gratuitous wedge-issue and one that might have more legitimate impact on lives.

In any event, the concept of a wedge-issue and the deft deployment of referendum-voting to drive wedges home may reasonably be viewed as one more element of the pseudocracy–an element deployed by both major parties.

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One Response to “The Issue of Wedge-Issues”

  1. At a Crossroads « The Bullshit Fighter Says:

    […] The Issue of Wedge-Issues (politicsandlanguage.wordpress.com) […]


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