Wedge Issues and the Frustrating Art of Politics


We know what they are and have been around as long as there has been a political process. Wedge issues are those social issues employed by a political movement to exploit and raise tensions within a group to curry favor and get support. They are used by all sides of the political spectrum and as you might suspect, are never fully resolved because of the battles such issues bring. What is less apparent is why these issues are rarely resolved.  

One side will bring up an issue to exploit regardless of its actual status in the real world. Once in a position of power they do little to resolve it beyond rhetoric because they want to maintain the raised tensions it creates to keep their supporters in line. The other side, who could put the issue to rest with what they have, also do little to resolve it because of the political laws of physics: Angry support for one side of an issue has an opposite and just as angry opposing side of the same issue. Often these issues are blown out of proportion with hyperbole, false facts, conspiracies, propaganda all designed to raise issues for those who may never had before even thought about it before.  

Once dealt, the other side can present a more factual presentation of the issues, even suggest some compromise to ease whatever level of tensions raised. However they don’t because if they’re successful fighting for the rights in jeopardy then that side loses their base support. The logical cure for wedge issues is reasoned and factual dialogue and implementation of fair compromise. Yet that is never done by either side of an issue because both sides need that angry base of support. 

Here are just a few of the issues being raised this election cycle, some date back many generations only proving my point:

Abortion Rights

Immigration Reform

Gun Control

Civil Rights and Equality

Entitlement Spending

Educational Reform

Climate Change

Military Spending

Religious Freedoms

Banking Reform


Both sides raise, defend and fight for their base regarding these issues whether they truly believe there’s a problem or not. Neither side politically want a solution because to do so gives them nothing to take back to their base for more support. 

The most persistent of these issues are Abortion Rights. Long before Roe v Wade this was a topic of discussion and discourse throughout the United States. Abortions always have and always will exist in this country. Abortions were never a serious issue until some on the religious extreme started to demand a political solution to what they considered a sin (regardless of the fact there is no stated opposition to abortion in the Bible). Politics picked up the cause, laws were passed in communities and states outlawing the procedure that hadn’t been outlawed before. The result, it went underground and became more dangerous. Many women left the country to have them done in countries that didn’t have the restrictions imposed by this country. Then those upset with their reproductive rights being denied by some locals went political to fight back. One nation, many diverse laws governing one issue, abortion. It ended up in the Supreme Court and the Justices ruled by majority that an abortion is a right. Problem solved? Hardly. 

This became a very important wedge issues for those who gravitate to the religious right and everyone else. To this day, abortion rights are favored by mass majorities in this nation but you wouldn’t think so because one party uses this issue effectively to get support. Enough support to win legislatures and Executive Mansions across the country. They tell their supporters they will end it, but it never happens. They only slow it down to keep the issue alive. To gin up support they continue to manufacture facts and investigations to tug at the hearts of those religiously opposed to it. 

The recent clearly edited and misleading Planned Parenthood tapes shows this. They mangle the facts and present a narrative of evil people purposely killing fetuses to sell at huge profit, fetal tissue for medical experimentation. None of that is true. These are legally aborted or miscarried fetuses and as allowed by law, tissue samples are provided for medical research based on the consent of the family. None of it for any profit whatsoever, only the cost of transport.  

Of course those who want to keep this issue alive now demand (to satisfy their base) total federal defunding of Planned Parenthood. However few point out that under the Hyde Amendment, no federal money can go to abortion. Further, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes towards abortion services. However it make a good story to the base so they persist. Even Carly Fiorina adds to it by injecting scenes and dialogue in the movie that doesn’t exist. Still, the media won’t cover this because they also benefit from Wedge Issues. To resolve it kills the story and they lose viewership. 

So the Wedge issue, Shutdown Planned Parenthood because of illegal baby tissue sales. Democratic Response, tepid at best because though they talk about the good Planned Parenthood does, they won’t show the evidence that proves the allegations are blatantly false. Finally the media doesn’t investigate and tell the whole story because a wedge issue is good ratings. No solution to be found only harm to those caught in the middle. Wedge Issue Politics. 

Immigration reform is yet another wedge issue that dates back nearly to the founding of our nation. Nativists (an odd term considering their heritage as immigrants) begrudge new immigrants coming to the nation. To curry their support, politicians present to the people the problem and the dire threat to our nation in allowing our borders to be “unprotected.” Each generation it’s another group of immigrants to bear the brunt of the anger of these people. From the Irish and Italians, to Asians and throughout our entire history, Hispanics.  

Factually immigration has been a constant throughout our history, only the flow of the number of immigrants entering legally or otherwise varies. Throughout that time, despite the rhetoric of the “nativists” they do not and never have increased the level of crime of violence in our nation. In fact it has been shown that first generation immigrants, legal or otherwise have significantly lower per capita crime rates that native born Americans. However that doesn’t matter in politics. The issue presented is that our borders aren’t secure and we’re not safe. It’s been the argument for generations. Despite border security being at its highest level ever, despite the increase number of deportations, despite the unequivocal data showing they don’t increase our crime rate, this is the rallying cry from politicians to those who feel the opposite to be true in order to curry their support in the elections.  

The specific issues regarding immigration, legal and otherwise are well known and established. In fact all the issues can be resolved. However as we have seen, the politicians on both sides of the issue won’t do it. Again, because keeping the issue alive with their respected base supporters keep them coming out to vote. A bipartisan immigration reform bill was passed in the Senate that would resolve whatever issues the majority of Americans have. Yet, despite enough bipartisan support in the House, it’s never been put up for a vote. Why, the extreme right don’t want a solution or they lose a wedge issue with their base. What’s more, a discharge petition could be initiated by the moderates and left in the House forcing a vote but they won’t do that either. Why, because if they lose this wedge issue, they won’t be seen as the saviors for those in favor of immigration reform. In the meantime, millions suffer over an issue easily and equitably resolvable. 

The story continues. Occasionally some wedge issues can be resolved for a period of time, but usually only after an election only to be brought up again in another election cycle. There are no problems facing this nation that can’t be resolved for the majority of people involved providing all sides are heard, mutual respect given and a compromise is presented. However that makes for poor politics when your goal is to have your party run the show, not deal with the real needs of all the people. Wedge issues are presented by politicians, are grown by media, and like a cancer corrode public confidence in the process resulting in a more divided and dysfunctional society. However, for mainstream media, that’s good for ratings. For politicians, that’s good for votes. For the rest of us, not good for anything. 

So what’s the solution? I’m not really sure. We are a representative democracy meaning that despite what many think or hope for, the voice and will of the people don’t have any direct impact on their government. It’s filtered by the representatives we send to office. And those people are influenced by other more powerful forces like the wealthy and corporations and political “think groups” who use their money and power to drown out the voice, will and better interests of the ordinary people in this nation. We can try to take money out of politics, but it’s the money interests that control how our representatives vote. Many states have voter driven initiatives which is the truest form of democracy our nation has to offer. Perhaps we need to play the long game starting at the local level to start the process of metamorphosing our Representative Democracy to a more true Democracy where the people have more say in how issues are resolved at the local and national level. Is it possible? Most certainly. Is it likely? Not a chance but a boy can dream. 

The only thing we can do right now, the only weapon we have right now is our voice. We rarely use it anymore as we should. Through phone calls, letters, emails and social media we need to hold all our elected representatives (on both sides) accountable to actually solve the wedge issues that politics actually create or they don’t get our support or vote. We must still vote, but we can seek or even put up some people who are more willing to do what’s right, not what’s politically advantageous for them. As always, you don’t use your power, you will lose it.