Sometimes referred to as “hot button” or “third rail” issues, wedge issues are political or social topics of public debate that are both polarizing in nature and incredibly salient among the mass public. Often, wedge issues cause a rift or disagreement between members of what would otherwise be a unified group, such as the citizens of a country or the members of a political party.1
They are also similar to “culture war” issues in that they bisect a group of people according to strongly-held beliefs or values that are not easily reconciled.2 This creates the perception that if one side is right, the other must be wrong. In the United States, popular wedge issues include access to abortion, racial justice, and gun ownership.3
Politicians, political influencers, and those running for office often draw attention to specific wedge issues as a means of exploiting social or cultural cleavages between people, and mobilizing single-issue voters in their favor.4
Wedge issue is a Casebook value under the "Vulnerabilities" variable in the code book.
- 1 Tim Heinkelmann-Wild et al., “Divided They Fail: The Politics of Wedge Issues and Brexit,” Journal of European Public Policy 27, no. 5 (May 3, 2020): 723–41, https://doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2019.1683058.
- 2 Paul Goren and Christopher Chapp, “Moral Power: How Public Opinion on Culture War Issues Shapes Partisan Predispositions and Religious Orientations,” American Political Science Review 111, no. 1 (February 2017): 110–28, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055416000435.
- 3 Matt Peterson and Abdallah Fayyad, “The Irresistible Effectiveness of Wedge Politics,” The Atlantic, December 8, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/membership/archive/2017/12/the-irresistible-effectiveness-of-wedge-politics/547946/.
- 4 Fredel M. Wiant, “Exploiting Factional Discourse: Wedge Issues in Contemporary American Political Campaigns,” Southern Communication Journal 67, no. 3 (September 1, 2002): 276–89, https://doi.org/10.1080/10417940209373236.