Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Should you vote against your views to send a message?

Is it ever right to support someone whose views you abhor if it helps you achieve other goals?

During the Republican primaries preceding the midterm congressional elections in 2022, there was a bit of a hubbub about how Democrats had helped fund campaigns for Republican candidates whose views included denying the validity of the 2020 presidential election. The idea apparently was that their more moderate Republican opponents in the primaries would be harder for the Democratic candidates to beat.

Beyond the disingenuousness of pouring millions into campaigns of candidates whose views they claimed to abhor, it was a risky gambit. The election-denying candidates could after all end up beating their Democrat opponent in the general election. For the most part, that didn’t happen and Democrats fared well in the fall 2022 election.

Even if they got the results they wanted, were Democrats wrong to financially support something they claimed was destined to destroy democracy?

I was reminded of the tactic a few weeks ago during the presidential primary elections. In Massachusetts, where I live and vote, unenrolled voters (what they call independent voters here) are permitted to ask for a Republican or a Democratic ballot when they vote in the primaries. In February, of the 4,957,403 registered voters in the Commonwealth, 1,336,825 identified as Democrats while 415,438 identified as Republicans. Both were eclipsed by the 3,153,445 who registered as unenrolled. There was a bit of chatter encouraging unenrolled voters who traditionally voted a Democratic primary ballot to ask for a Republican ballot to vote for the only remaining challenger to the former Republican president. The idea presumably was to send a message that the former president did not have as much support in the primary as he and his supporters hoped.

What this meant for many unenrolled voters with more politically progressive views was that they would end up voting for a candidate whose views were far more conservative politically than their own and often fell into the category of those for whom they swore they would never vote. And they’d be throwing away a vote for the Democratic candidate who they knew they would be voting for in the general election regardless of how the primaries turned out.

Was it wrong for unenrolled voters to use their vote to try to send a message even if it meant voting for someone whose views they loathed?

Not necessarily. If these unenrolled voters felt more strongly about trying to defeat the former president than they did about voting for a candidate whose policy views most closely matched their own, that’s an ethical choice they could weigh and make, recognizing that it might result in boosting the candidacy of someone for whom they normally would never vote.

I regularly encourage as many people as possible to register to vote and then to vote. But I draw the line at telling them how to vote. That choice is their call. Regardless of how they end up voting, it strikes me that the right thing is for them to become as informed about candidates or issues as possible, weigh the strengths and weaknesses, think through the implications of their decisions, then to make the choice they believe is best for their community and their country.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy, emeritus, at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


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