The Overton Window of Political Possibility

The Overton Window // A Case Study

The Overton Window of Political Possibility is a model to explain how changes in public policy occur. When evaluating the options within any specific public policy issue, only a relatively narrow window of options will be considered politically acceptable by politicians. The window of acceptable policies is not primarily defined by the politician’s preference, but by what he or she can support without jeopardizing re-election. As society embraces new ideas, the Overton Window shifts to include additional public policy options that were previously deemed unacceptable.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature on right-to-work legislation stunned many outside observers. But that final development was the product of years of analysis and education about the benefits of worker freedom. The Mackinac Center worked with a broad coalition of scholars, grassroots activists, business leaders and union members to educate voters and legislators on the importance of worker choice.

2013: Michigan’s right-to-work law goes into effect. Some 648,000 employees will, for the first time, have the freedom to refuse financially supporting a union without fear of being fired.

2013: Gov. Rick Snyder calls for the Legislature to pass a right-to-work law. The bill is passed and signed into law.

2012: Voters reject Proposal 2, the union-sponsored proposal to amend the constitution.

2012: UAW President Bob King announced a ballot campaign to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution. In 2013 King admitted that the “Protect Our Jobs” amendment was intended to constitutionally prohibit a right-to-work law.

2012: State lawmakers Rep. Mike Shirkey and Sen. Patrick Colbeck began calling for Michigan to become a right-to-work state.

2011: Grassroots leaders launched Michigan Freedom to Work, a coalition of individuals and organizations mobilizing for a right-to-work law.

2007: Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center, published a study titled “The Economic Effects of Right-to-Work Laws,” which found that economies of right-to-work states grew more than non-right-to-work states.

2006: Mackinac Center fiscal policy director Michael D. LaFaive and adjunct scholar Michael Hicks publish a paper that demonstrates that people leaving Michigan were primarily leaving it for right-to-work states.

1999: Dr. William T. Wilson, a vice president and economist for Comerica Bank, and a senior policy analyst for the Mackinac Center, was fired by the bank after testifying before a legislative committee about voluntary unionism. The Center later awarded Wilson its “Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor Award.”

1997: Robert Hunter, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center and a Reagan appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, predicted that within a decade, Michigan would become a right-to-work state.

1994: President Lawrence W. Reed and Senior Vice President Joseph P. Overton recommend that Michigan adopt a right-to-work law. They wrote: “[Right-towork] encourages investment in new jobs and invigorates the economy with new incentives for entrepreneurship.”

1992: Mackinac Center Adjunct Scholar George C. Leef calls for reforms that would give unionized employees the right to choose whether to pay for union representation or political activity.