A new idea fills the window of what the public regards as unthinkable, causing the desired idea to shift into the window of what the public views as sensible, without its proponents necessarily having explained any benefits of the desired idea.
At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered to be politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too “extreme” or outside the mainstream to gain or keep public office. Overton arranged the spectrum on a vertical axis of “more free” and “less free” in regard to government intervention. When the window moves or expands, ideas can accordingly become more or less politically acceptable. The degrees of acceptance of public ideas can be described roughly as:
The Overton Window is a means of visualizing which ideas define that range of acceptance by where they fall in it. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public so that the window either “moves” or expands to encompass them. Opponents of current policies, or similar ones currently within the window, likewise seek to convince people that these should be considered unacceptable.
Other formulations of the process created after Overton’s death add the concept of moving the window, such as deliberately promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous “outer fringe” ideas, with the intention of making the current fringe ideas acceptable by comparison. The “door-in-the-face” technique of persuasion is a similar concept.
 In media
The novel Boomsday applies the Overton Window to the subject of Social Security reform in the United States. The technique used was to agitate for “voluntary transitioning,” that is, suicide at a certain age in exchange for benefits, as a method of reducing the cost of Social Security. Ultimately, the goal was a more modest form of reducing the burden on younger people for the costs of Social Security.
Conservative talk show host and columnist Glenn Beck has written a novel titled The Overton Window, published June 15, 2010.