What factors play into a deontological analysis of voting your conscience? i.e. voting for a candidate who highly aligns with your positions, but doesn't have a chance of winning, vs. a less ideal, but more electable one, given that there is an terrible 3rd candidate out there.

This question is inspired by this article which primarily deals with consequentialist approaches. There is a brief mention of deontological analysis, and it seems to indicate that voting your conscience flows from this account. However, the article does not provide an argument that this is the case, and I'm unconvinced. In trying to think it through, I've come to realize that I don't even know what aspects of this decision are even relevant in a deontological setting, i.e. how to think about this problem in anything other than a consequentialist approach.

At the face of it "vote your conscience" or "vote to oppose the terrible candidate" seem equally generalizable as general maxims.

  • "Conscience" Pedantry off, and not directly answering the question, suppose you see the candidates as Good, Bad, and Evil, and Good has no chance of winning. If enough people vote for Bad to keep Evil from winning, then the number of people who voted for Good amounts to a message to Bad that may affect Bad's behavior. – WGroleau Jul 16 '16 at 10:54

Interesting question, I'm wondering in the same predicament. I have a few thinking points to offer:

--Consequentialism v deontology = Do you want to bring about a certain future? Or, do you believe that it is better to be concerned only with a rule and not about the results? One underlying belief that underlies the decision between the two is whether or not you believe it is your personal responsibility to affect the future according to what you believe is best for it. Do you put responsibility on the other - on a rule, person, system, idea, metaphysical belief, etc - and leave yourself blameless of the future (deontology)? Or do you understand yourself to be responsible for the outcome of things because you have the power to make so what you believe is right (consequentialism).

--Can a vote be treated as a deontological end, or is it by nature a consequential tool for individuals to enforce their own rule in the world. Is voting a responsibility to merely represent your rule or to seek to shape the world through your vote?

It seems that what I can offer you in your pondering is the question, "do you seek to shape the world in your image, or are you responsible, not for consequence of good or bad in the world, but only the representation of good through your actions. I wonder if this is the only true distinction between deontology and consequentialism - responsibility for representation or consequence.


More of an extended comment, than a properly sourced answer:

There is an implicit contradiction in the article that you mentioned:

Consider a left leaning US voter who is wondering whether to vote for Sanders or Clinton. She thinks Sanders is the candidate who best represents her worldview and wants to vote for him even though she knows he has little chances of winning. Her Pro-Clinton friend uses the utilitarian logic presented in the article you linked to argue that she would be ethically wrong in doing so, since the consequence of supporting Sanders no matter what will be to increase the likelihood of Trump winning. So it seems that the consequentialist approach (voting for an outcome) would be to support Clinton, while the deontological approach (voting on principle) would be to support Sanders.

But then the Clinton supporter is contradicting herself here: The desired consequentialist outcome - preventing Trump from winning - is itself based on deontological reasoning. Why is the desired outcome here preventing Trump from being president? Because his is a mysoginist, a racist bigot, etc...and someone like that should never be president - so essentially a deontological rule about what views a president should be allowed to hold.

This could also be applied to the GOP in general (not just Trump): Why should a democrat prevent a GOP administration at all cost? because they think people are more important than corporations, that the environment takes precedent over big oil, because they are pro-choice, pro-women's rights, because they think religion and state shouldn't mix, etc....

So ultimately the choice comes down to voting for principles, not outcomes, anyway.

This points to a more general flaw in the article: The moment you are voting for a person or a party, the only way you can decide your vote is deontological. You are choosing a person or a party because you have a shared set of principles with them. You do not know before hand how they are going to manage the country, and you definitely don't know what the various outcomes of their administration will be. All you know is that they believe in a certain number of political and economic principles.

Moreover claiming to vote based on utilitarian principles (as one of the professors quoted in the article says) is in a sense disingenuous: we don't know what the majority wants until after the vote had been tallied, that is the whole purpose of voting, so how can we claim to be voting to maximize the greatest good or the greatest happiness?

The way I see it, the only way that a case be made for voting based on consequences as opposed to voting based on principles, is if the vote is on a particular outcome, not a person or a party, as was the case with the Brexit vote.

In such a situation, it might be possible to argue that people knew before hand what the likely consequences of the UK exiting the E.U was, and if they voted on principle even though they new that the economic consequences for the U.K were bad, then one can accuse them of being immoral by failing to take into account the negative consequences of their actions.

  • 2
    I can see easy consequentialist reasons to consider Trump as an ethically bad choice, as one example he advocates applying torture (and I assume that if in power he would actually try to make that happen), and I don't think that Clinton would. The third from last paragraph makes a point, but we do have incomplete information on the range of outcomes from polling data, that might affect our decisions (but maybe not under deontology...) – Dave Jul 14 '16 at 22:35
  • incomplete polling data is too shaky. if it were reliable, then politicians might as well use polling data, why bother with costly and time consuming elections that will only slow things down? And people change their mind all the time. With a formal vote, your asking people to commit to a decision, and therefore you can hold them responsible for those designs. – Alexander S King Jul 15 '16 at 4:52

If the chance of your single vote affecting the outcome is negligible, the voting is mostly an act of self-expression and virtue signalling, so later you can say "I voted for MY_CANDIDATE" to your peers. You could abstain or vote for someone else, of course, but then you would be lying. As a consequence of your support of that candidate or party, they will have a somewhat better chance to win the next election.

I think it's more of a consequentialist argument. The deontological side is something like "be honest and uncompromising".

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. If you have any references (or short quotes) to others with similar views that would support your answer and give readers a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Sep 23 '18 at 12:31

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