Another common point of discussion about politics these days, as people struggle with making their decision in the worst presidential election choice in decades, is the concept of “negative voting.”
This election has nudged us into bizarre territory. Except for the true believers in the Clinton and Trump camps, just about everyone recognizes that both candidates are significantly flawed — and is angry that the average voter has been put into this awful predicament. As a result, the discussion about deciding how to vote gets into deeply negative thinking. You hear people talking about how people need to look at things like worst case scenarios — I’ve actually sat with a person who said he’s made his decision based on “Which of the two candidates is more likely to blunder America into World War III?” — or should engage in relativistic weighing of candidate flaws to determine the “lesser of two evils.”
Indeed, this year, more than any presidential election year in the past that I can remember, serious people have argued about whether or not there is a moral obligation to vote for the perceived lesser of two evils. See, for example, here and here. Others argue that the ethics should work the opposite way: because voting for “the lesser of two evils” is still voting for an “evil.”
This is alien territory for most of us, because in most elections people get comfortable with, or even enthusiastic about, the candidate of their choice and actually believe that the candidate would be a good President. Their vote is an affirmative endorsement. I’m confident that in, say, 2008, the overwhelming majority of people who voted for Barack Obama did not think they were choosing the lesser of two evils, and instead thought he would be a game-changing President.
Of course, in any election there is going to be a comparison of the candidates, and a decision on which would be the better choice — and part of that process may be to look at areas where you disagree with the candidate’s position. But in normal election years the process doesn’t involve a comparison of the faults of the two candidates and arguments about which of the candidates is less irredeemably flawed.
Is it any wonder that the American electorate this year is so deeply disaffected?