ethics of voting

When Is It Ethical To Vote For The Lesser Of Two Evils?

3 November, 2020

This week Americans are voting on who they think will do the best by their country.  We’re often confronted with a choice between acting in a way that expresses our deep-seated values and ideals, and acting in a way that promotes a better outcome in the here and now. What should you do?

A familiar context in which this problem presents itself is at the ballot box. Suppose you believe the state should look after the wellbeing of the poor and combat the structural forces that enrich the wealthy. Suppose you’re in a two-party electoral system, and that the party notionally aligned with your ideals made a Faustian pact with business elites to shore up the policies that perpetuate poverty – low minimum wages, tax incentives for rent-seekers, privatisation of public services, etc. What kind of ballot should you cast? You can’t vote for the party pushing things further to the Right. And if you don’t vote, or you vote for someone who’s almost certain not to win, you’re helping that same regressive party get elected. Yet lending your support to the ‘lesser of two evils’ candidate, whose platform you don’t really support, feels like an unacceptable compromise to your ideals. Robert Simpson, associate professor of philosophy at University College London, explores the moral dilemmas behind these scenarios and looks at integrity, and compromise.

Whatever you choose, Simpson says it shouldn’t be “doing nothing – and we should be wary of anyone portraying their desire to sit things out as a mark of integrity. That is to misunderstand why and how integrity matters in the political morality of citizenship.”

Psyche, Robert Simpson, 28 October 2020. Read the full article here.

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