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Wedge issue? 引起分歧的问题

中国日报网 2019-07-26 11:20

Reader question:

Please explain “wedge issue”, as in “immigration as a wedge issue”.

My comments:

Immigration as a wedge issue?

This means immigration is an issue that’s used by politicians to pit people against each other in order to create division, discord and conflict.

Literally, the issue of immigration is being used as a wedge.

The wedge, you see, is originally a small piece of chopped wood (thick on one end and thin on the other) that carpenters use to help secure and firm up two or more adjoining pieces of woodwork. This is done by driving the wedges, thin end first, into the tiny spaces around the corners of the adjoining woodworks.

Modern day wedge tools can be made of plastic or metal. While you can insert wedges in order to secure two or more objects, you can also use a wedge to separate them, by inserting the thin end of the wedge into the space between the objects and then prying them apart.

Obviously, it is from the second function of the wedge that we infer that wedge issues are divisive issues.

By that we mean to say that people use political issues, such as the issue of immigration, in order to divide and split people who are otherwise united.

For example, working people generally agree that immigrants should be welcome in the United States because they are willing to take on many manual and low-paying jobs. However, when some politicians say immigrants from Mexico hurt white American working men and women, then immigration becomes a wedge issue. In other words, it becomes a wedge that is used to drive a division between white people and brown people (from Mexico).

How come, you may ask, can Mexican immigrants hurt white people?

They just take jobs away from white people because the immigrants are willing to work for lower wages, as one of the argument goes.

Whether that argument has merit is not our collective concern here, but it’s easy to see that, at least partially, race is the underlying issue here. And race, I mean the issue of race has been a perennial wedge issue in America.

All right, no more ado, let’s read a few examples of issues that are wedge issues, issues that are divisive, contentious, incendiary and controversial:

1. For more than a century, ballot initiative campaigns have been a way to make public policy at the state level, but in recent years some have also been launched with a secondary motive in mind: to influence the candidate races that share the same ballot.

The most famous example came in 2004, when — legend has it — President Bush owed his reelection at least in part to ballot initiatives to ban same sex marriage in 11 states that helped draw social conservatives to the polls.

National Democratic leaders remain so taken with the purported success of that GOP electoral gambit that they recently announced their own copy-cat strategy for 2006.1 They are waging an effort to place initiatives on their favorite wedge issue — increasing the minimum wage — on ballots in a handful of states this fall. Meantime, Republicans, not to be outmaneuvered at their own game, are gearing up for another round of same sex marriage ban ballot initiatives this fall.

There’s just one problem with both gambits: to the extent that they are based on the notion that there was a widespread spill-over from the same sex marriage ban ballot initiatives onto the presidential race in 2004, they’re anchored more in myth than reality.

- Wedge Issues on the Ballot, PEWResearch.org, July 26, 2006.

2. From Ronald Reagan’s win in 1980 to George W. Bush’s in 1994, I have been impressed and troubled by the Republicans’ skill at using wedge issues to win presidential elections. This year, those same issues came back to bite them like a shark held by its tail.

Wedge issues are the divisive and controversial social issues that can split people and political groups. They can move voters to support the candidate with whom they agree on a wedge issue to the exclusion of their overall views and interests.

One salient wedge issue is abortion, and the Republicans in past presidential elections have gained the support of evangelicals and Roman Catholics, whose social justice missions conflict with some of the larger Republican agenda.

Republicans also have used race as a wedge, sometimes blatantly and at other times more subtlety, to motivate portions of their now almost-exclusively white base, and some traditionally Democratic voters. The archetypal example is the Willie Horton campaign ad used by the George H. W. Bush campaign against Michael Dukakis during the 1988 race.

As Massachusetts governor, Dukakis had supported a weekend furlough program for inmates, and the highly effective advertisement seemed designed to use the wedge issue of race to split off white Democrats from their party and motivate the white Republican base.

The television ad showed the stark mug shot of the disheveled and unkempt African-American Horton and told the story of how he had raped a woman and stabbed her fiance while on a weekend jail furlough, granted as part of Dukakis’ inmate rehabilitation program.

- Op-ed: Wedge issues cause problems for GOP, PennLive.com, November 23, 2012.

3. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pitched his graduated-rate income tax plan by emphasizing that only a tiny sliver of Illinois residents would pay more if voters approve a change to the state constitution in November 2020.

Those residents, as might be expected, are concentrated in a handful of wealthy enclaves in the city and suburbs. In fact, a quarter of all taxpayers statewide who would be hit by the higher rates — those earning more than $250,000 a year — reside in just 15 of the state’s more than 1,500 ZIP codes, covering places like Lincoln Park, Wilmette, Barrington and Elmhurst, according to a Tribune analysis of Illinois Department of Revenue income tax data from 2016, the most recent year available.

In Lincoln Park, for example, 14% of taxpayers — 4,757 filers, the most in any ZIP code — earned more than $250,000. That includes 1,010 who earned enough to qualify for the top rates under Pritzker’s plan, which would tax individuals earning more than $750,000 and couples earning more than $1 million at 7.99% of their total income. The current rate is 4.95% for all taxpayers.

In some tony suburbs, the concentration of high earners is even greater. In both north suburban Winnetka and west suburban Hinsdale, more than 29% of taxpayers — 2,740 of filers in Winnetka and 2,288 in Hinsdale — would be affected by the higher rates that kick in at $250,000.

Downstate, there are only a few pockets where more than 3% of taxpayers earn more than $250,000, including ZIP codes in and around Peoria, Decatur and Springfield.


The GOP will use the graduated income tax as a “wedge issue” in seeking to win back those seats and cut into the Democrats’ supermajority control of the legislature, he said.

Republicans and other graduated income tax opponents already are drawing on widespread distrust of state government after decades of scandal, fiscal mismanagement and political gridlock to counter the Democrats’ sales pitch.

- Extra revenue from graduated tax would come mostly from Chicago, suburbs, SJ-R.com, July 22, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


In a pinch? 紧巴巴


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