Should I Vote?
When the two most popular candidates are as disliked as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it becomes difficult to decide whether or not to vote. Our more ardent friends tell us that voting is a constitutional obligation. They say that it stands for all the people who died for our right to vote, but neglect to say that you ought to vote for your values. Voting for one’s values has been the way that America has operated for generations. This can be seen in the election of 1912, with Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Eugene V. Debbs, and Theodore Roosevelt. The election held four parties: democratic, republican, socialist, and the progressive party, and each one adequately represented a different sector of the voting base. The democrats with Woodrow Wilson took just over 41% of the popular vote, but won by a landslide in the electoral college due to the diverse options that the American people were given. Even the most removed candidate, Eugene V. Debbs with the socialist party, received 6% of the popular vote, which is more than what Gary Johnson is currently polling nationwide.
If the candidate does not represent you, why should you vote for them? Recently, the question has changed from “Who should I vote for?” and has become “Who should I vote against?” With the assistance of party-line voters, more elections are being decided on the lesser of two evils rather than a popularly appealing candidate. This consequentialist mindset can be extremely dangerous. On one hand, it allows an individual to assess the “greatest good,” but it also reduces the possibility for change. Third party candidates are at the mercy of party-line voters, who make up such a strong majority of the voting population that the candidate on the outside has to fight against the predisposition to vote for whichever party the voter is affiliated with. Specifically, the fear that the more radical and ignoble side will win. This encourages a false dichotomy that forces the potentially interested voter to act out of fear of the opponent rather than out of an interest in improving the country because the chances of a third party candidate are almost entirely ruined by party-line voting.
The other major problem with consequentialism is that it devalues individuals’ ideals. In the 1964 election, voters overwhelmingly voted for Lyndon B. Johnson not because they particularly liked him or agreed with his values, but rather because Barry Goldwater was so extreme and bigoted that no one wanted to be associated with his name. The electoral vote was a landslide, with 486 for Johnson and 52 for Goldwater. This doctrine places the consequence of the election above what the individual actually desires. Voters may be forced to compromise their values in favor of a net beneficial effect. Further, when compromise is made, internal party reform becomes challenging. If the individual concedes on topics that may be critical to them, they will have to accept whatever outcome they receive regardless of their ideals. The consequences of these outcomes inevitably degrade the voter’s values. At some point, they may sacrifice enough of their morals that they do not even know their own values anymore. When they come to the point where their moral inconsistency is acceptable, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the opposition they find so heinous.
The conclusion of this argument implies that you should only vote to your values and disregard the consequences, but there are major problems that follow with this train of thought as well, which lie in the neglect of the consequences. This may sound odd given the problems with solely valuing the consequences, but entirely disregarding them can also be problematic. While stating that no compromises can be made does solve the problem of internal value degradation, it implies that if a candidate does not fulfill every last one of your values, then they are not worth voting for. This can lead to an outcome where extremely harmful and disadvantageous political candidates are able to win because their values resonated with the largest group of voters, even though their supporters may be a national minority. For example, if only a tenth of the population held the same set of extreme values, and the remainder of the population held differing moderate positions, then a candidate who represents the smaller portion could win if the remaining eligible voters abdicated their vote because they did not connect enough with a representative. This can lead to harmful long-term effects on the nation as a whole, as the candidate who held the values of that decile of the population now holds the power of the nation.
The final option between values and consequences lies in compromise. Someone can understand that consequences are important but also take into account that they need to consider their values. The difficulty here is finding the proper balance between these ideals. From voter to voter they will be different, and perhaps they will even be indescribable, but as long as people understand that a proper vote requires consideration of both of these things, then perhaps we could have a viable election that balances the ideals of the people. When answering the question, “should I vote?” only the voter can decide by weighing their values against the dangers of the opposition.