The Lesser of Two Evils: A Poor Solution to a Frustrating Problem

When it’s time to go to the polls, you always start to hear people say things like: “I would vote for a third party if they had a chance” or “I don’t like either of the candidates, but I have to vote for the lesser of two evils.”  It’s almost become accepted as fact that the lesser of two evils is the only option, but is it really?  Let’s take a closer look at this idea of the “Lesser of two evils.”

In any election, we have to analyze the candidates, and we vote for the one that we think is better.  This works well when you have a candidate, or ideally two candidates, that you think would be good for the job.  You decide which you think is better, vote for them, and hopefully they win.  For example, let’s say on a scale of 1-10, you would rate one candidate as a 7 and one as an 8.  Vote for the candidate that you would rate an 8, but even if they lose, 7 is not too bad.  However, does this same logic apply if you would rate one candidate as a 2 and one as a 3?  What if you have 8 other choices on the ballot?

Do not vote for the lesser of two evils.If you could vote for Hitler, Stalin, or one of these other 8 options, would you still vote for the “lesser of two evils?”

At some point this concept of the lesser of two evils breaks down.  I am reminded of an unfortunate interaction that I read on Facebook years ago.  This topic of the lesser of two evils came up.  Person A was commenting that they must vote for one of the main candidates, who he considered to be the lesser of two evils.  Person B disagreed with this approach, and presented a scenario where one of the main candidates was Hitler, the other main candidate was Stalin, and then there were 8 other minor candidates to illustrate his point.  Person B asked, “Who would you vote for?”  I think that person B expected the answer to be one of the 8 other candidates, pointing out that at some point the argument about the lesser of two evils would not apply in this far-fetched, extreme scenario.  It seems like we should all be able to agree with that at least, right?  Now whether the current election reaches this level can be debated.  Surprisingly, Person A made an argument for why they would knowingly vote for Hitler!  Adolf Hitler!- because he was less evil than Stalin, and the other 8 candidates had no chance of winning.  How sad is this line of thinking?  People do it all the time, though, and accept this lesser of 2 evils approach!

Related: Not Voting: Is This a Good Option?

So obviously the scenario with Hitler and Stalin is an extreme example.  You could always argue that, while the lesser of two evils breaks down at some point, the argument still works for the two candidates in whichever election you are currently talking about.  This is a personal decision that each person has to make.  I choose to look at the situations like this: how much worse will a candidate that I would rate as 2 be vs. the candidate that I rate as a 3.  I would argue that, while they may have different policies they try to enact, the end result would be very similar.  For example, I think many people view the debt, budget deficit, and spending of the United States to be a large issue in the U.S. today.  Now, whether a Democrat is elected and spends money on social programs or a Republican is elected and spends money on the military, the end result will be larger deficits, larger debt, etc.  Neither party is serious about truly cutting spending, balancing the budget, and addressing our long-term debt.  Do you think the election of either major party would be much different on this in the long run if you consider one candidate a 2 and the other a 3?

What would happen if all of us that view the 2 main options negatively would vote for one of the other 8 candidates?  First, I don’t think this would be an insignificant number of people making this decision.  If each person was bold enough to do it, there would be a large number of votes for third parties.  Next, with a large number of voters voting for third parties, I think two things would happen.  First would be that third parties would attract more viable candidates instead of fringe candidates.  A candidate like Ron Paul could run as a Libertarian if he chose to do so for example.  Currently, it would be a poor decision for a viable candidate to run third party as they would get no media coverage and no votes due to the mindset of most voters at this point.  This is the mindset that Independent Florida is trying to change.  The second benefit would be better candidates from the main parties.  Right now, there is no reason for Republicans or Democrats to nominate a candidate that puts the interests of the country before the interests of the party.  They just need someone that their base will support and may pull a few independents, and to do that, they just need to be slightly better than the other party’s candidate.  As we have seen, this keeps getting us the partisan, polarizing candidates that we have been getting as of late.  When large numbers of voters prove that they will not go along with this “lesser of two evils” idea any longer, Republicans and Democrats will be forced to nominate better candidates in order to keep their power.

In summary, I am not proposing everyone automatically vote for 3rd parties.  If you truly support a main party candidate, by all means, support them.  However, when you dislike both options, don’t forget that there are many other options on the ballot.  Quit thinking that you must vote for the lesser of two evils.  It’s not the only option.  Voting for one of these other candidates is not wasting your vote, and will actually have power as more people adopt this view.  For more info, check out “Why Should I Vote for Third Parties?”

What do you think?  Share your thoughts below or jump over to the forums to join the discussion!

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