Wedge issue  

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A wedge issue is a social issue, often of a divisive or controversial nature, which splits apart a population or political group. Wedge issues can be advertised or publicly aired in an attempt to weaken the unity of a population; with the goal of enticing polarized individuals to give support to an opponent. The use of wedge issues gives rise to wedge politics. Wedge issues are also known as hot button or third rail issues.

Political campaigns use wedge issues to exploit tension within a targeted population. A wedge issue may often be a point of internal dissent within an opposing party, which that party attempts to suppress or ignore discussing because it divides "the base." Typically, wedge issues have a cultural or populist theme, relating to matters such as crime, national security, sexuality (e.g. gay marriage), or race. A party may introduce a wedge issue to an opposing population, while aligning itself with the dissenting faction of the opposition. A wedge issue, when introduced, is intended to bring about such things as:

  • A debate, often vitriolic, within the opposing party, giving the public a perception of disarray.
  • The defection of supporters of the opposing party's minority faction to the other party (or independent parties) if they lose the debate.
  • The legitimising of sentiment which, while perhaps popularly held, is usually considered inappropriate or politically incorrect; criticisms from the opposition then make it appear beholden to special interests or fringe ideology.
  • In an extreme case, a wedge issue might contribute to the actual fracture of the opposing party as another party spins off, taking voters with it.

To prevent these three consequences from occurring, the opposing party may attempt to take a "pragmatic" stand and officially endorse the views of its minority faction. However, this can lead to the defection of supporters of the opposing party's majority faction to a third party, should they lose the debate.


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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wedge issue" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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