Third Party & Independents Archives

The Evils of Lesser Evil Voting

Condemn progressives for voting enthusiastically for Democrats and the inevitable response is something like: just imagine how much worse voting for Republicans would be. Similarly, many true conservatives and Libertarians see voting for Republicans as a necessary evil.

With many progressives regretting giving Democrats a majority in Congress and many conservatives regretting putting George W. Bush in the White House, it is timely to refute lesser evil logic.

Inevitably, lesser evil voters face personal disappointment and some shame. Politicians that receive lesser evil votes do not perform according to the values and principles that the lesser evil voter holds dear. These voters must accept responsibility for putting ineffective, dishonest and corrupt politicians in office. Though they may be lesser evils, they remain evils.

All too often lesser evil voters avoid shame and regret and prevent painful cognitive dissonance by deluding themselves that the politician they helped put in office is really not so bad after all. Corrosive lesser evil voting erodes one’s principles as pragmatism replaces idealism. This makes the next cycle of lesser evil voting easier.

Lesser evil voting helps stabilize America’s two-party duopoly that greatly restricts true political competition. Third party and independent candidates – and minor Democratic and Republican candidates in primaries – are defeated by massive numbers of lesser evil voters. Despite authentically having the political goals that mesh with many voters on the left or right, these minor “best” candidates fall victim to lesser evil voting. Lesser evil voters are addicted to a self-fulfilling prophesy. They think “If I vote for a minor candidate they will lose anyway.” They ensure this outcome though their lesser evil voting. The truly wasted vote is the unprincipled lesser evil vote.

Effective representative democracy requires politically engaged citizens that vote. Lesser-evil voters support the current two-party system with its terribly low voter turnout and chronic dishonesty and corruption. Lesser evil voters help put into office disappointing politicians, not the best people that would restore American democracy and show more citizens that voting is valuable. Lesser evil voters demonstrate the validity of turned-off citizens’ view that it really does not matter which major party wins office.

Politicians knowingly market themselves to lesser evil voters by constructing phony sales pitches, especially to certain audiences outside of their more certain base constituents. Democrats make themselves look more progressive than they really are, and Republicans make themselves look more conservative than they really are. Lesser evil voters are phony, and they produce a phony political system. Lesser evil voters contribute mightily to the travesty of our political system that no sane person respects and has confidence in.

Lesser evil voting demonstrates the worst aspects of political compromise. This is the common cause of terrible laws. When citizens surrender so much of what they truly believe in, they enable compromise politicians to create bad public policy that, in the end, satisfies very few people and puts band-aids on severe problems. Lesser evil voters concede victory to the other side – the side they view as the worse alternative because the people they vote for will not stand up for what is right and necessary. Think Iraq war. Even when their lesser evil side wins, they do not have the principled positions that would prevent awful compromises, often in the name of bipartisanship that is a clever way to justify our corrupt two-party mafia.

Lesser evil voters deride the alternatives of not voting or voting for minor candidates. The outcome should the “other” side win is deemed unacceptable. There is worse and there is worst. The core problem with lesser evil voters is that they are short term thinkers. They fail to see the repeated long term consequence of their style of voting – a system over many election cycles that persists in delivering suboptimal results. The “good” outcome in the current election (from their perspective) is the enemy of the “better” solution in the longer term (from an objective perspective). The better solution is major reform that will never happen as long as lesser evil voting persists.

Understand this: Lesser evil voting is not courageous. It is cowardly surrender to the disappointing two-party status quo. Lesser evil voters should trade regret for pride by voting for candidates they really think are the best. Voters in this presidential primary season have some remarkable opportunities to transform fine minor candidates into competitive major candidates – more honest and trustworthy people like Ron Paul, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, for example.

Finally, the deadly decline of American democracy results in large measure from lesser evil voters electing lesser evil politicians. When virtually no elected public official is there because most voters have embraced his clear principled, trustworthy positions we get a government that is easily corrupted by corporate and other moneyed interests. We get what we have now. And if you are dissatisfied with that, then reconsider the wisdom of lesser evil voting. We will only get the best government by voting for the best candidates. Otherwise, we get what we deserve and what the power elites prefer.

Posted by Joel S. Hirschhorn at June 1, 2007 3:13 PM
Comment #221899

I’m not sure I understand your premise. Are you saying if you don’t agree with every single thing a candidate represents, then you should not vote for him/her?

I guess in a perfect world, we’d all agree on everything and only vote for perfect candidates, but now that we’re awake, how about a dose of reality?

The Lesser Evil will always win, because he is percieved as the lessor evil. Those who are starry eyed in love with a candidate, probably aren’t very realisitic to begin with.

Maybe it’s cup half full or empty thing that your talking about?

Posted by: barneygoogle at June 1, 2007 3:21 PM
Comment #221906

I always vote for the Greater Good.

Posted by: American Pundit at June 1, 2007 5:31 PM
Comment #221908

Applying a “perfection” criterion is not at all what I’m talking about. Obviously no human candidate can be perfect. However, nearly always people consciously know that a candidate that they vote for is either truly the best person for that position OR know that they are making a really big compromise and that candidate is the lesser evil among all the candidates that they think has a chance of winning. Voters very often think that there is a candidate that is best suited for the position but they do not believe has a good chance of winning. My large point is that the strategy of lesser evil voting has clearly produced awful electoral results and played a major role in corroding our representative democracy by putting lousy people in congress and the white house.

Posted by: Joel S. Hirschhorn at June 1, 2007 5:46 PM
Comment #221911

George Bush was demonstrably not the lesser evil in 2000 and 2004 and still he managed to get elected. The fact that candidates more likely to speak truth to power like Kucinich, Paul and Gravel are less likely to achieve nomination is a fact that Spud puts down more to the fact that the entire system is so corporately co-opted and over-cozy with the MSM than to “lesser evil voting”. The under-informed electorate are largely led by the nose by MSM to the more “corporate friendly” candidates. The MSM will also successfully sink candidates like Kucinich and Paul by giving them less airtime and less credence. They pretty much always do. This is why the internet buzz over these two guys never amount to mainstream coverage. People should really only vote for candidates willing to acknowledge the serious cracks in the system. Trouble is most voters don’t have that choice on their ballots and even if they did their level of awareness is not yet sufficient because of the MSM filters. Ultimately, a vote for the lesser evil is still a vote for the good. It is not a vote thrown away. And it sure beats not voting. Not voting is a non-solution.
Be Well.

Posted by: dethspud at June 1, 2007 6:31 PM
Comment #221915


kind of a catch 22 isn’t it. just ask those who voted for nader in 2000, or those who voted for perot in 92. they voted for whom they felt was the best candidate, but oh did it bite them in the ass.

Posted by: dbs at June 1, 2007 7:25 PM
Comment #221916

“Ultimately, a vote for the lesser evil is still a vote for the good. It is not a vote thrown away. And it sure beats not voting. Not voting is a non-solution.”

No. A vote for the lesser evil… is still a vote for evil.

The frustrating thing is that we DON’T have to be locked into the two-party fraud perpetuated by the elites and the mainstream press. We have ALWAYS had a free and clear choice: to vote for the candidate that we believe is best for the job, or not to vote at all. If you honestly believe that you are morally bound to vote for the “lesser evil”… then yes that IS a wasted vote. It is a thrown-away vote and worse, it means that you compromised on your own principles. What are you left with after that, then?

The American political system is like the fabled Gordian Knot. It cannot be solved or untied by conventional thinking. The more we try to do that, the messier the knot becomes.

The best way to solve it is to do what Alexander did: slice the thing apart.

Choosing to NOT engage in this charade unless there IS a candidate worth your vote has tremendous moral value, and is an option we would be wise to consider more often.

I’m starting to envy the old Soviet Union. At least when they had one-party rule, they were open and honest about it.

Posted by: Chris Knight at June 1, 2007 7:32 PM
Comment #221918


in a black and white world this makes a lot of sense, but if you were to ask those on the left that voted for nader if it was worth it i’m guessing you’de get resounding NO. because they voted for nader, the man whom most of them would compare to satan himself will be in office for 8 years, this is where the problem lies. in the real world we do damage control.

the only way i can see to get third parties more involved is to change the rules of debate. we need to to see third parties involved in national debates, but we can’t have every tom, dick, or harry that wants to run, participate. maybe you could limit it to just major third parties such as liberatarians, and greens, and maybe the american independant party. no doubt the others not allowed to participate would be screaming bloody murder.

Posted by: dbs at June 1, 2007 7:55 PM
Comment #221921

Joel, I am one of those that you speak about. Yes I admit it I vote for the lesser of 2 evils most of the time. It is a cowardice addiction and yet I continue to vote this way. In 08 however, I will say this, I will vote for the democratic candidate for president but for any other office on the ballot I will vote for a third party candidate. I will in the future try to curb my addiction to the lesser of 2 evils appraoch.

Posted by: j2t2 at June 1, 2007 8:13 PM
Comment #221923

The solution to that is simple: allow any candidate who can muster up a reasonable amount of names on a petition, to be on the ballot.

That would include the Republican and Democrat candidates, as well. They *should* be forced to prove their case with enough regular Americans to get sufficient names on a petition, instead of being able to rely on the current two-party nomination process.

Make the rules for being a candidate apply across the board, regardless of any party affiliation at all. Why *should* a person who wants to serve in public office be made to join a party in order to have a fair chance at offering his or her services?

Nothing. Except the current system isn’t interested in finding servants, only gluttons.

Having multiple names on a ballot will *not* be a problem. This past November I was one of sixteen candidates in a school board race that made national headlines. I didn’t win a seat, but I thought the whole process was fair to all involved (well except for the guy who did win a seat, who was caught stealing campaign signs on the night before the election, but that’s another story…) So I don’t see any reason why there *can’t* be more than two or three on the ballot for President.

Posted by: Chris Knight at June 1, 2007 8:21 PM
Comment #221925

Lesser Evil, Greater Good, what’s the difference? Nothing guarantees that these guys won’t turn around and screw your over for your troubles. The real cause is that people can lie their asses off. The best solution possible in an imperfect world is to look at folk’s actual record. If you knew Bush’s record before getting into Washington, what came after might not have been such a surprise. If you just listened to his rhetoric, you probably were more shocked at his idiocy.

Additionally, we have to stop thinking one-dimensionally along the lines of campaign platforms. They’re wedgework, meant to get people to vote apart from their interests. Consider your interests as a whole. Consider your beliefs as a whole. A generation of independents voted for Republicans and got nothing much to show for it because they got too caught up in voting on the basis of God, Guns, and Gays.

Ditch the fantasies of political control. We are a nation of individuals, with broad freedoms of speech and expression. Joel, you say that compromises are what make law bad. Truth is, no, it’s compromise that are made in part for rational reasons, but as a whole add no better than a turd sandwich. Some degree of compromise is necessary to get government to work. Just forcing crap on people without gaining agreement with them leads to backlashes. The key is keeping a big picture understanding of things in mind when you make the compromises.

Ultimately, voting is not enough. We have to stop defining politics merely by what’s on the inside of the heads of a certain group of people. Politics in our heads is a pure place of idea. In the real world, it’s an interaction nobody has complete control over. Our ideas will work better if we figure out what works in the real world, how to make things work, and how to tell the difference.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 1, 2007 8:30 PM
Comment #221926


sounds reasonable, but who decides # of signatures needed ? not to mention in a national election this could be very costly. i won’t argue with you on the glutton thing. still the only way for people to get an idea of the candidates positions is to allow them to debate on national tv. with out exposure they stand no chance. those in your area may know who you are, but no one else does.

Posted by: dbs at June 1, 2007 8:31 PM
Comment #221931

I’m all for not voting for the lesser of the evils. If well qualified candidates that will represent the people that elect them and will work for the better good of this country are available by all means vote for them.
The problem is there haven’t been any qualified candidates for most offices, specially form the major parties, in more years than I care to remember.
So what do we do? Not vote at all? That is the worse thing that can be done. Not voting is saying you don’t care about the direction this country goes and giving incompetent and irresponsible candidate the green light to go about their business as usual sell the country down the river to the highest bidder.
The thing to do is to vote for the best qualified candidate. And unfortunately that means at times voting for the lesser evil.

Posted by: Ron Brown at June 1, 2007 8:57 PM
Comment #221936

The number of signatures would be decided by the state legislatures, per each state. Ross Perot had the right idea about that in 1992, and he pulled it off… with very little of his own money financing the petition drives, if I recall correctly.

As Ron Paul is proving lately, television exposure is no longer as powerful a factor as it once was. We’re only going to see the Internet’s influence increase in time, and with it far more scrutiny of candidates and what they *really* believe, not what they just say in front of the camera.

I like to believe that more and more, success as a candidate is coming to depend on that candidate’s character and creativity. Considering how tired most Americans are getting with the two major parties, that’s going to make the more independent candidates stand out that much more from the pack.

Anything is possible. Heck, I was very much an unknown when I entered the race here. By the time it was over my campaign had been mentioned in the New York Times. And that was with VERY limited resources! I certainly believe that another independent candidate with more time to organize and raise funds could achieve far, FAR more.

The other alternative, which has crossed my mind more than a few times lately, has to do with the notion that perhaps America has simply grown *too big*, and too unwieldy, to be effectively managed by a very far-removed few. The Romans realized that was happening to them and the problems it created, so they split their empire into two.

Maybe we should split America into several smaller regions/countries, each with its own locally-elected “president”. Still have the country united but with a far weaker federal government, which would include one individual elected to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Or have each of the local “presidents” rotate that national duty on a regular basis. Some would probably call that a “confederacy”. Maybe that has some negative connotations… but you gotta admit it would remove a LOT of the overwhelming bureaucracy that is stifling our freedom. And it would allow for those with the sincere desire to serve a better opportunity to be candidates with a viable chance of winning elections.

Just thinkin’ outside the box a bit, is all…

Posted by: Chris Knight at June 1, 2007 9:12 PM
Comment #221943

So lets see if I vote for the lesser of 2 evils it’s bad, if I vote for the greater of the 2, that could be bad, if I don’t vote at all, then I have no reason to complain about anything because I didn’t voice my opinion.

Problem with all the parties Rep/Dem/Ind, is that those that would probably be a good President do not have a BIG war chest. It is not the best qualified, it is those that can buy time on the Networks to network and make themselves look like they are the end to end all.

Well I guess I will go back to vote for the lesser of 2 evils, because that is probably the only choice we have

Posted by: KT at June 1, 2007 10:02 PM
Comment #221946

Joel, welcome to the world of practicality. When people do as you said in your second post, you get mishaps like the 2000 election. Obviously, the results of that election (President Bush Jr.) were the not the desire of people that voted for Nader. I am fairly confident that those people would have been more satisfied with Al Gore as president.

When you do not follow the lesser of two evils idea you end up with the greater of two evils. Sounds like a pretty idiotic thing to knowingly do, does it not?

And while you pointed out plenty of flaws with the lesser-of-two-evils model, you failed to layout a clear alternative. “Voting for the best person” really just sounds like an application of the theory you condemn, only less effective.

Posted by: Zeek at June 1, 2007 10:41 PM
Comment #221957
No. A vote for the lesser evil… is still a vote for evil.

And a vote for the greater good… is a vote for good.

BTW, since this is the third party column, what are the chances of Ron Paul running for president as a Libertarian? I’d love to see that. :)

Posted by: American Pundit at June 2, 2007 12:28 AM
Comment #221977

Actually, I can see where some good can come out of withholding one’s vote from “the lesser of two evils”, and letting the “greater” evil prevail in the short term…

If the WORST candidates are allowed to win elections, then they can only work to ruin and cripple things that much faster. Which *theoretically* should wake more people up to the fact on how absolutely crappy these candidates are. Maybe then more people will make it a point to seek out the GOOD candidates from then on.

“Order from chaos”, so to speak: the more chaos erupts, the better the thing that will rise from the ruins.

And those of us who didn’t vote for “the lesser evil” will still get to sleep soundly at night.

Posted by: Chris Knight at June 2, 2007 9:05 AM
Comment #221993

Chris Knight, Our current President has certainly proved your point on the results of not voting for the lesser of 2 evils. We really should have had enough after 4 years however look what happened 4 more years.

The problem with the lesser evil system is it allows the corporations that own the 2 parties to maintain control of the political system. The smaller parties competeing to be the 3rd party could benefit by voters disenfranchised with the “whats the difference” parties. The people of this Country could gain some control over the politicians once again.
That being said I will still vote for the Democratic candidate for President because 1 more greater evil on the supreme court would be 1 to many for a fair and impartial Supreme Court, especially until we can weed out the unqualified lawyers graduating from the Christian “law” schools that have infiltrated the Federal system.

Posted by: j2t2 at June 2, 2007 12:54 PM
Comment #221997

Chris, that is effectively what happens anyways. The U.S. has swung between extremes on the political spectrum throughout its history. But it is not a particularly effective way of doing things, and worse, it is a cycle that feeds into itself making lasting reform impossible.

Posted by: Zeek at June 2, 2007 1:22 PM
Comment #222092

I want to share what a fan of my writing sent me:

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” John Quincy Adams

I voted for Nader and have no regrets; I am sure that if Bush had lost and Gore had won I would still have been mightily disappointed in a Gore presidency. More important, Bush won because of enormously more voters in the conservative camp that did in fact vote for the lesser evil - George W. Bush. Blame those millions, not the Nader voters.

Posted by: Joel S. Hirschhorn at June 3, 2007 12:31 PM
Comment #222127

AP, I believe voting for the greater good is always infinitely better than voting for the greater God. It is one of my bedrock principles, being a believer in the tenets of nearly all the world’s major religions.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 3, 2007 3:35 PM
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