The year is 2016. A reality TV host and business mogul and a heavily criticized, yet experienced career politician are shaping up to be the nominees for the upcoming presidential election. They are also, statistically, the most disliked presidential candidates in history, with 53 percent of voters viewing Donald Trump and 37 percent viewing Hillary Clinton as “strongly unfavorable.”
How did we get here? If we decide who gets nominated, how did we end up with nominees we seem to dislike? Regardless of the actual qualifications and skills of these candidates, it might be time to take a step back and examine our own voting philosophies. When we get too hung up on the individual people running for president, we forget to consider why we’re voting for them in the first place.
It’s all too easy to criticize other people for why they vote, but the reality is that our reasons for voting for candidates each have their own benefits and faults to them. Some people vote for ideas. Others might vote, or abstain, in protest. Many simply vote to make sure the worst person doesn’t win.
There’s no one way to choose a candidate; voting is our right, and it’s ultimately our choice how we decide to exercise it (if at all). So here are just a few of the most popular reasons people vote for the candidates they do, each presented with the justification that its supporters typically employ.
The idealist vote
As citizens of a democratic republic, we are the ones responsible for who runs our country. So the party that argues for what matches your views most closely is, logically, the one you should vote for. When idealist third party candidates like Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul run for office, many mainstream voters and well-intentioned democrats and republicans will say that they like what those candidates are offering, but that it’s too unrealistic to support them.
But that argument is sort of a cop-out; those candidates only become unrealistic because people make them so. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mainstream voters benefit from the victory of more fringe candidates when they win, but don’t have to sacrifice their vote in case they lose. The only way we ever get real change, though, is when people put aside practicality and vote for who they believe in, even if it means risking their second-favorite not winning.
“If you really want to change the way things are done, you should vote your conscience every time,” political author Craig Tomashoff said. “You’ll suffer for it the first two or three elections, but if everyone starts doing that and becoming comfortable with it, it’ll force the politicians to play a different game.”
You might lose a few elections to the candidates you hate by voting idealistically, but by working together we can start to vote in the people we actually want.
The pragmatic vote
Sure, we’d all prefer to have our perfect candidate win and take all of our concerns and goals with them to the White House, but living in a democracy means making compromises. In a country of 300 million people spread across an extremely wide range of political views and allegiances, it’s just not realistic to expect to get everything you want (or even most of it). If you can’t stand Clinton, you might vote for Trump with your teeth clenched, just because you’d rather have him. If you believe that Trump is simply too dangerous to be allowed anywhere near the White House, it’s just the safer and responsible option to vote for the candidate who can put the best fight against him.
There’s also an element of privilege faced by those who don’t vote pragmatically. If you’re an upper-middle class, college educated voter, your life won’t be as affected by the outcome as someone who faces other systems of oppression. Economically, change always hits the poor first and hardest, so more marginalized members of society might feel they can’t afford to gamble on an idealistic candidate.
When you look at just the short term, this is probably the safest way to go. In a high-stakes election, it might be best to just vote for the lesser of two evils. Just remember that the more you play it safe, the harder it gets to change the system.
The hybrid vote
The electoral college is clearly broken, and a more accurate representation system is necessary. On the other hand, we’re faced with a highly dangerous candidate this election season that we can’t afford to let win. This situation isn’t anything new, but it’s especially significant this election cycle.
Since swing states tend to decide elections, though, many of us who live in solid blue or red states often don’t need to worry too much about our vote actually swaying the outcome. Washington has been a blue state since 1988, and there’s little indication that will change in this election. Clinton probably won’t need my help clinching my state’s 12 electoral votes, which means I’m more or less free to support whichever candidate I want.
This is the philosophy I personally subscribe to. Despite being a mostly democratic voter, I’m not voting for Clinton in November. It’s not because I don’t like her or think she’s unfit to be president, but I have the luxury of being able to vote for someone like Jill Stein, whose views more closely represent my own. If I lived in a crucial swing state, like Ohio or Florida, I’d probably play it safe and vote blue.
It’s not a perfect strategy, and it might not be as morally pure as some of the others, but the hybrid vote is one way to reconcile your personal views with your practical concerns.
The apathy (non)vote
People abstain from voting for many reasons. Some just don’t see a candidate who deserves to be in the White House. Forget choosing the lesser of two evils; when every candidate looks incompetent or untrustworthy to you, sometimes it just doesn’t seem like you should participate in the system at all. Voter turnout in the United States has reflected the generally increasing amounts of people who feel disconnected from those who supposedly “represent” them, although recent elections have shown an uptick in turnout.
For others, it might simply be a matter of nihilistic pessimism. It’s nearly impossible that one vote could ever sway an election, so maybe you just have better things to do. This philosophy isn’t necessarily inaccurate. Like the pragmatic vote, it suffers from being a collective action problem. It’s a choice you can make only because other people actually go out and vote for who they want. By choosing not to vote out of laziness, you’re freeloading off the effort other people make to vote and simply hoping that you like whoever wins. Your individual vote, in truth, probably won’t end up deciding an election, but your decision to vote is what matters.
You also might abstain because you simply don’t know enough to make an informed decision. This, I believe, is one of the more noble decisions that people don’t always consider. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of your party and community and vote for the person your friends and family support, even if you don’t know much about them.
It takes a lot of bravery to admit your ignorance, and simply try to do more research next time. If you really don’t feel like you know enough to make an informed decision, don’t vote. Ignorance and blind conviction are responsible for many of the world’s worst leaders, and you’re under no obligation to indulge in them.
No matter which philosophy you abide by, we all have the responsibility to do our research, consider our biases, and make the decision we feel is right. Whatever happens come election day, we did our duty.
Reach columnist Alex Bruell at email@example.com. Twitter: @BruellAlex