The myth of conscience voting

To what extent should we prioritize our individual discomfort, our “duty” to follow our own moral code, above concern for the consequences that our choices may have on others?

Many, both religious and those whoa re simply passionate about their political views, have argued in conversations about the 2016 election and its aftermath about “voting your conscience” against “voting pragmatically.”

The argument seems to boil down to this: some folks, faced with a Trump vs Hillary choice, elected to vote in support of a 3rd party candidate in order to avoid giving direct support to a candidate whose positions imply (or directly require) contradicting one’s moral code.  Others, faced with the prospect of two candidates they abhorred, may have filtered their “lesser of two evil” choice through a singular moral lens: for the typical Evangelical, this seemed to revolve around abortion or holding onto a SCOTUS seat for the sake of overturning Roe v Wade. For Bernie supporters, their vote for Hillary perhaps stemmed only from a desire to preserve some particular progressive value like access to abortion or Obamacare.

Either way, on both sides of the spectrum, people were defending a vote for a flawed candidate on moral grounds. In my newsfeed, at least, the more religious the voter, the more the defenses dragged in the name of Jesus in ways I find — at best — uncomfortable.  I think I reached peak “Oh for pete’s sake!” when Evangelical leaders tried to argue that Trump had found Jesus and was a baby Christian. *rolls eyes*

Those who advocate a more practical approach to voting in American elections point out two things: voting 3rd party in a national election will always be a throwaway vote, until those outside parties can break into the system. Second, if one of the two mainline candidates is truly atrocious, failing to vote against that person or splitting the vote of the opposing candidate (as happens when libertarians abandon the GOP or the greens/socialists walk away from the Dems) ends up being a de facto vote for the candidate you hate.

Further, running your candidate through a singular moral lens forces you to ignore a critical element: the aftermath of the policies a candidate espouses.  Put simply, I find it appalling (galling?) that Christians voted for Trump in order to  “prevent” abortion while ignoring (and continuing to ignore) horrific abuses against many currently living humans who are being negatively affected by the decisions he and the Republicans have made over the past 18 months.

I long who gave up the one-issue voting stance as unhelpful and short-sighted. No decisions that involve humans can be truly 100% good or totally horrible. I’ve never met anybody (intelligent or educated or even just basically informed) who could wholly endorse one party’s entire platform.

It’s time to drop the euphemism “voting your conscience” and call it what it is: voting your priorities.

Because that’s what voting is here in America.

Most of us have too little money (and therefore no power) to influence any given election. It’s true that state and local races can come down to a handful of votes. So this discussion targets larger races where my one vote in a SC district genuinely matters only a feather in the whole situation. If at all.

The polls and data continue to confirm strong Evangelical support for Trump as a candidate in 2016 and as a President now.

I heard a lot of FB timeline voices offering their reasons either for a 3rd party vote (understandable) or voting for Trump.  But labeling one’s reasons for voting a certain way as “conscience” or “pragmatic” gives us too easy of an excuse for the fallout of any given election. Acknowledging that a vote is, instead, a statement of ranked priorities forces us to be honest about what matters to us.

When we allow ourselves to detach from the visible and real human consequences of the entire gamut of a party’s political platform, we can pretend it’s ok because WE did the only right thing we could. WE “voted our conscience.”

No. You voted your highest priority, the single thing (or three) you can’t live with (or without). That’s it. Plain and simple.

When we make a particular vote about individual holiness, it takes our attention away from the collective and institutional outcomes of various policy positions.

Here’s the issue: your individual “conscience” isn’t more important than the trade-offs your vote will empower.

I’m not suggesting a paralyzing level of fear that my vote somehow has outsized effect on any given political system. It doesn’t. But if I run the decision regarding what candidates I will support through only an individualistic filter, I may miss critical elements of the moral and social calculus that drives our voting decisions.

It seems to be a weakness of the American mindset to prioritize the individual too much over the collective / society / community.  By recognizing that my vote indicates my priorities and preferences, rather than some moral statement about the universe, I might be able to see the consequences of public policy more fairly.

I think that would be a win for all of us.

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