Triangulation (politics)

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A conceptual diagram illustrating political triangulation.

Triangulation is the name given to the act of a political candidate presenting his or her ideology as being "above" and "between" the "left" and "right" sides (or "wings") of a traditional (e.g. UK or US) democratic "political spectrum". It involves adopting for oneself some of the ideas of one's political opponent (or apparent opponent). The logic behind it is that it both takes credit for the opponent's ideas, and insulates the triangulator from attacks on that particular issue.

Origins within Clinton Presidency[edit]

The term was first used by President of the United States Bill Clinton's chief political advisor Dick Morris as a way to describe his strategy for getting Clinton reelected in the 1996 presidential election. In Dick Morris' words, triangulation meant "the president needed to take a position that not only blended the best of each party's views but also transcended them to constitute a third force in the debate."[1] In news articles and books, it is sometimes referred to as "Clintonian triangulation".[2][3][4] Morris advocated a set of policies that were different from the traditional policies of the Democratic Party. These policies included deregulation and balanced budgets. One of the most widely cited capstones of Clinton's triangulation strategy was when, in his 1996 State of the Union Address, Clinton declared that the "era of big government is over."[5]

Recent use[edit]

Politicians alleged to have used triangulation more recently include US President Barack Obama,[6][7] former Senator Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair with "New Labour" in the United Kingdom, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin with the Liberal Party of Canada, Fredrik Reinfeldt with "The New Moderates" in Sweden, and Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, and Kevin Rudd of the Australian Labor Party. In France, the Socialist candidate in the 2007 presidential election, Ségolène Royal, advocated “military supervision” (encadrement militaire) for first offenders.


Some members of the U.S. Democratic Party[by whom?], in particular the left, insist that triangulation is "dead." They cite the attempted uses of triangulation by Democrats in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore's call for more military spending than those of opponent George W. Bush was seen[by whom?] more as an admission that Bush was correct on the issue.[citation needed] The use of triangulation by John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, in such areas as the Iraq War, resulted in "flip-flopping" charges.[citation needed] It also forced Kerry to defend positions that he took which he may or may not have held. During the 2010 State of the Union Address, President Obama insisted that he would remain with his agenda in the face of criticism, rather than resort to triangulation.[5]

The term "triangulation" is often used[by whom?] as a pejorative, sometimes in reference to the New Democrat movement. Progressive critics argue that triangulation has led to multiple electoral defeats and eroded the principles of those who use the strategy.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morris, Dick (1999). Behind the Oval Office : getting reelected against all odds (2. ed. ed.). Los Angeles: Renaissance Books. p. 80. ISBN 978-1580630535. 
  2. ^ Trende, Sean (2012). The lost majority : why the future of government is up for grabs-- and who will take it (1st ed. ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0230116469. 
  3. ^ Goldberg, Jonah (December 18, 2007). "Clintonian triangulation comes full circle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  4. ^ Lind, Michael; Halstead, Ted (2013). The radical center the future of american politics (Unabridged. ed.). New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 9781400033294. 
  5. ^ a b Sanger, David E. (2010-01-29). "Where Clinton Turned Right, Obama Plowed Ahead". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  6. ^ How tax cut revolt helps Obama: It's a page from Clinton playbook "Perhaps President Obama's tax-cut deal with the GOP was astute, after all. While he angered liberals, he also won back some independent support – an example of Clintonian 'triangulation.'"
  7. ^ "Matt Frei's diary: Groundhog Day". BBC News. 2010-02-03. Retrieved 2010-05-26.