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The Lesser of Two Evils

I’m wrestling with the notion of “the lesser of two evils” as it applies to the current presidential election. The idea is that, with two candidates, neither of whom would have been a voter’s first choice, and both of which have more negatives than positives, is it better to vote for the one who is less negative than to either abstain or vote  for a third party candidate who represents your values? This argument has been made for both candidates in the present election. Many Clinton supporters used to be in favor of Bernie Sanders, but when he did not obtain the Democratic Party nomination, they reluctantly switched allegiance to Clinton because of their fear that Donald Trump would be elected if they did not. Similarly, Many Trump supporters previously supported other candidates, but have become supporters of Trump, not because they want him to be president, but because they do not want Clinton to hold the office.

There are also a substantial number of people who previously backed either Sanders or one of the unsuccessful Republican candidates, who now plan to vote for either Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate or Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. Their argument is that voting for the “lesser of two evils” by picking either Clinton or Trump is violating their conscience, since the lesser of the two evils is still opposed to most of what they believe in. By voting for a third party candidate, such as Stein or Johnson, they are making the values and positions represented by such a candidate better known to the public as well as letting the public know that there are many people who support those positions and values.

But third party candidates never win American presidential elections. They do take away votes that would otherwise go to major party candidates. So isn’t it true that by voting for a third party candidate, a person is helping the candidate they consider the greater of the two evils (assuming that if they did choose to vote for one of the major party candidates, they would vote for the one they consider the lesser of the two evils)? Of course it is, but should that argument be enough to persuade someone to pick the lesser of two evils, rather than the third party candidate?

First of all, the answer should depend upon how much more evil one candidate is than the other. In other words, how much worse would the country be for candidate A to be elected instead of candidate B? If the answer is that there is a barely discernible difference between the two candidates, yet there is a major difference between what they stand for and what a third party candidate stands for, then perhaps voting for a third party candidate and letting people know  that his or her values are supported by a sizeable number of people is important. But in this election, one side says that Hillary Clinton “should be disqualified” from the presidency because of her history of dishonesty, most importantly, her email scandal, the issue of lying about the reason for attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, collusion with Wall Street, and selling of favors to big donors to her husband’s charity. The other side says Donald Trump is “temperamentally unfit” to be president because he is naïve with regard to foreign policy, vengeful toward those who oppose him, has voiced racist ideas about Mexicans, has recommended violating the constitution and current laws with regard to Muslims entering our country and surveillance of Mosques, and recommended violating laws related to torture of political prisoners and killing of terrorists’ families.  A potential voter may take none of these charges seriously, but if, in a voter’s mind, the country would be markedly worse off, even dangerously so, if one candidate rather than another were elected, then it seems as if not voting for the lesser of the two evils is enabling a much greater evil to assume control of the country. This could outweigh making a statement about values by voting for a third party candidate. After all, doing everything one can to prevent the greater evil from winning is a value in itself.

The choice of whether or not to vote for the lesser of two evils is not an abstract moral decision that is independent of the actual choices and their probable outcomes. Public choices, made by casting a vote, are for the purpose of affecting the governance of our country. Voting for either of two candidates who have different plans for the country will affect the welfare of the country and each of its citizens. Presidents have immense power and even with recalcitrant congresses, such as our current president has had, can change our country and the world in important ways. The impact of third party candidacies on affecting much more than the balance of votes between the two major party candidates is, frankly, difficult to discern ( I know there are many people who will disagree with this, but it is very difficult to point to a significant impact of any recent  third party candidacy other than in affecting votes cast in the major party race).

My own opinion is that there is a substantial difference between the probable effect the two major party candidates will have on the country and the world. I can’t justify voting for a third party candidate or not voting. I know there are those who disagree with me and I simply hope that they consider what their vote means as carefully as I am considering what mine means. Votes make real differences and we have to look at probable outcomes to judge the choices we make. To me there is a real possibility of electing someone who will damage our country not a little bit more, but a lot more than if the other candidate is elected. Allowing this to happen, or worse, enabling it, by voting for a third party candidate or abstaining from voting at all, seems to me to be wrong.

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    There is great discussion going on two political candidates trump and Clinton both are strong parties and having great fans and strong background of politics. This information you share here is quite helpful to understand the situation of elections.
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