The Overton Window

What is tolerable to the public? What will 80% of people tolerate?

The Overton Window defines the answer to these questions as it sets the acceptable range of ideas in culture. Both sides of the political aisle and major media companies—no matter how different they seem—share ideas within a relatively narrow scope. The public (or 80% of the population) opposes ideas outside the Overton Window, viewing them as extreme.

The Overton Window is far from fixed—it’s constantly shifting like dunes in the wind. Political parties, businesses, nonprofits, and activist movements tinker with the window. A common mechanism to make a new idea publicly palatable is to share an extremist view that shifts the window—making things just outside the window move to just inside the window.

The example below depicts (my perception of) how the American public views COVID-19 protocol.

In 2019, the idea of wearing masks was unheard of and repulsive to most Americans. But after two years of a pandemic, mask-wearing and social distancing is palatable to most Americans—a small price for a return to travel and dining.