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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
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. It is often referred to as "Clintonian triangulation". 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."
Politicians alleged to have used triangulation more recently include US President Barack Obama, 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, 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 more as an admission that Bush was correct on the issue. The use of triangulation by John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, in such areas as the Iraq War, resulted in "flip-flopping" charges. 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.
The term "triangulation" is often usedpejorative, 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.