A Better Way to Look at Most Every Political Issue – The Atlantic

Source: A Better Way to Look at Most Every Political Issue – The Atlantic, by Conor Friedersdorf

We sometimes think of political issues in binary terms. Is someone pro-life or pro-choice? But most individuals hold views that are more complicated than a binary can capture.

An alternative is to describe a given position on a spectrum. On abortion, an outright ban sits at one extreme; at the other is the elimination of all restrictions on the procedure. In between are a staggering array of coherently distinguishable positions.

There’s a different set of frames, though, that are as relevant as binaries and spectrums, though they are less familiar and less discussed: equilibriums and limits.

Most political stances can be understood in terms of an equilibrium. For instance, some people might believe that access to abortion in a conservative state is too restricted under the status quo, and favor relaxing the rules regulating abortion clinics. That is, they might favor shifting the equilibrium in a “pro-choice” direction.

But ask those same voters, “Should there be any limits on legal abortion?” and they might declare that the procedure should be banned in the last trimester of pregnancy unless the mother’s health is threatened. Insofar as the abortion debate is framed around the equilibrium, they will align with the pro-choice movement; but insofar as it is framed around limits, they will align with the pro-life movement.

On abortion and scores of other political issues, there are people who tend to focus on equilibriums, other people who tend to focus on limits, and still others who vary in their focus. A single question put to the public cannot reveal the majority position of the polity on such issues, because there are at least two different majority coalitions: One forms around the position that a majority holds on the best equilibrium; the other forms around the position a majority holds on the appropriate limit.