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What is Triangulation?


Q: What is triangulation?

A:  In simple terms, it’s Democrats advocating some Republican positions or Republicans advocating some Democratic positions.

FULL QUESTION

My students are watching the debates and have asked what is the definition of "triangulation." Can you clarify? Thanks and keep up the great work!

FULL ANSWER

Merriam-Webster defines it as a "trigonometric operation for finding a position or location by means of bearings from two fixed points a known distance apart." But we’re guessing our questioner is more interested in the political use of the term.

There is no standard definition, but it is widely accepted that the term came into use during the Clinton administration and was coined by adviser Dick Morris.

Morris described triangulation in a PBS interview in 2000, saying:

Morris: Take the best from each party’s agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn’t be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn’t believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.

In 2006 Morris more simply described it as "taking the best from the right and from the left and discarding the rest."

Others have given their own take on it. Time magazine’s Joe Klein ventured that "it proposed the achievement of liberal ends through market-oriented conservative means. Welfare reform, which combined a work requirement with significant financial incentives for the working poor, was the best example of how the philosophy might work."

-Justin Bank

Sources

Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. "Bush seeks the center on U.S. immigration," Baltimore Sun, 22 May 2006.

Klein, Joe. "Three Cheers for Triangulation." Time, 13, Aug 2006.

"Interview with Dick Morris: The Clinton Years." PBS Frontline, June 2000.