Sunday 3 March 2013

Some thoughts about triangulation

Read in a comment on the European Tribune:

" To get elected, you want to collect everybody on your wing (left wing, if you're a Democrat), and as many nearer the center as possible. Your opponent does the opposite.
Each of you maximizes his electoral position by moving as close to the center as possible, to avoid losing a small percentage of centrist voters. So even if you are a flaming communist, or a full-fledged nazi, you will come to the center to try to get elected."

Several things there.

First, to the extent that it would be true, it would be a damning indictment against any two-parties system. If elections were to then be fought on totally spurious -and essentially identical- programs, bearing no resemblance to the actual agenda (that would be much less consensual), simply because you'd be trying to stop your opponent from winning the centre, then there would be no possibility of something approaching a reasonable democratic choice.
I'm not saying that there is a reasonable democratic choice at this stage, yet I get the impression that pretending to be centrist is not always the strategy on display.

Clearly, when there are more than two parties, we don't seem to see that. In France, it is likely that both Mélenchon and Hollande were campaigning to the left of their beliefs. Well, actually I don't know what Hollande's beliefs are, at any rate he was campaigning to the left of what he then did, and then his words were to the left of his actions -though that might not reflect his beliefs as much as what he felt he could do, I'm not in his head and cannot know for sure.

But even in systems with only two significant parties, it seems to be the usual strategy of the left (or should we call it lefter? Democrats have long been a right-wing party, just less so that Republicans), but not necessarily of the right. George Bush did not campaign or privatising Social Security it's true, but spoke about little else afterwards. Reagan had extreme rethoric, although he ended up having to raise taxes.

It is debatable whether that would reduce prospects in an election. Yes, the centre could be scared, but participation rates are not incredibly high in two-party elections. If you could get more of your base to turn up, it could be an election winner.

Yet one must question if the ultimate goal in politics is to win elections. To the extent that the goal would be to get the policies you want implemented, then pandering to the centre could be a dead-end. For by adopting a more assertive discourse -probably less centrist than your genuine position- you also move the Overton window in your direction. You could end up having the opposing party triangulating (and thus trying to be just a tiny bit more centrist than you) into adopting a position still more radical than your genuinely held one. It's certainly easier to use these tactics when you know that there is a whole range of "think-tanks" that will give you a handsomely paid position if you lose your electoral battle -probably a major reason why right-wing parties find it much easier to engage in such tactics.

Now, I know that triangulation was not the only think to have happened over the past 25 years, and I haven't done an extensive study to try to separate the different factors that have happened to jointly correlate with this strong rightwards move of the Overton window. Still, it is a danger that liberals should recognise. There is a risk, otherwise, of maybe winning most of the politics but losing most of the policies.

No comments:

Post a Comment