In Defense of the Single-Issue Voter
This article was written by Ricardo Huerta. Check out his bio.
A prejudice haunts American political discourse today; the single-issue voter—that is, an individual or group of people who cast their ballot for a candidate on the sole basis of where they stand or don’t stand on a single issue—is more likely to be harangued than those who have failed to show up to exercise their voting right. We need only look at the 2016 election to see Hilary Clinton attempting to score political points on Bernie Sanders by accusing him of being a single-issue candidate, i.e. only focused on economic inequality.
This prejudicial tendency is misplaced, especially with single-issue voters on abortion. Often tagged as ignorant and doctrinaire, single-issue voters face scrutiny from both sides of the aisle. But why is this? What is it about single-issue voters that frustrates so many?
Single-issue voting typically comes under fire for its narrow political vision and its willingness to vote in candidates that would otherwise be considered unfit for office if it were not for one particular issue. Donald Trump served as a perfect example of the dichotomy single-issue voters can often face when heading to the voting booth, and this is no more apparent than in the pro-life movement. For pro-lifers, Hilary Clinton was an impossible option because not only would she have sought to protect Roe v. Wade, but also expand access to abortions. Trump was the only viable representative for pro-lifers who believe that abortion was and is one of the central moral issues facing our country. All this to say that single-issue voting doesn’t just leave our country divided, but even those within the same political camp on an issue, hence the strong reactions and critiques of those who vote in such a way.
But I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives the single-issue voter. Take for example the issue of abortion; for those on the pro-life side of the debate abortion is a moral issue of the most pressing kind because it involves life or death. If you believe that life in the womb ought to be safeguarded, voting for candidates who create laws to protect such life becomes the greatest moral and political imperative in contrast to all others. Other examples of such moral imperatives exit in the cases of capital punishment, war, or any issue that directly relates to the termination of a human life. And this is the context in which we have to place single-issue voters; there are serious moral dilemma’s that force a voter to make a decision that on the outset seems outrageous, but upon further investigation makes logical sense. More often than we would like to believe, the realist in us compromises certain values in order to fulfill those we believe to be more pressing on our moral and spiritual conscience. The single-issue voter is such a person, realizing that certain political and moral issues will potentially require them to cast a ballot for an otherwise unfavorable candidate. We must commend such voters for such moral convictions.