Thursday, November 1, 2012

Logical Conversation about Activist Voting [Jay Watts]

I'm going to take a run at a conversation about pro-life voting or activist voting in general without addressing specific candidates.  I am also going to open unmoderated comments on this one post to allow people to criticize or correct any mistakes or just to dialogue on the issue.  Be respectful or your posts will disappear. ;-) [Because I am now onto other things, the comments are now back under moderation.  Will check as often as I can]

Does this make sense?

1) I hate X.

2) Candidate N sees X as a good that ought to be provided at lower costs and more accessible than it already is.

3) I decided to support Candidate N because I believe his policies will most limit or reduce X.

On its face the preceding seems to lack any logic at all. If the Candidate pursues policies that are opposite of my goals as it pertains to X then his policy goals cannot be the reason I vote for him. Let's see if we can tweak it a little and make more sense of it.

1) I hate X

2) Candidate N sees X as a good that ought to be provided at lower costs and more accessible than it already is.

3) Candidate N is part of a Political Party Y that opposes X as a matter of their party platform, therefore the presence of Candidate N increases the political power of Party Y.

4) Party Z is the opponent of Party Y and sees X as a good that ought to be provided at lower costs and more accessible than it already is. That is a part of their party platform.

5) The presence of Candidate N's opponent strengthens the political power of Party Z.

6) Parties Y and Z potentially have far more collective power than any individual representative of their party.

7) I decided to support Candidate N to limit the power of Party Z.

This has some logic behind it. It seems a good explanation as to why in some cases it may make more sense strategically for a pro-life voter to endorse a pro-choice republican. I would say the rationale as it is constructed there would be less valid if Candidate N were running for President of the United Sates because the candidate can directly impact the platform in a way others can't.

It also seems clear that the point of contention is whether or not point (6) is true. Every other point is merely a matter of my beliefs, determining a biographical fact about Candidate N, or a matter of documented facts about the parties in question.

One could add that they are under no moral obligation to vote for one of the two parties or to vote at all. If that is the case, then it is possible that Party Z benefits from the inaction of others. To what degree are we responsible for the consequences of our inaction? If you knew that 100,000 conservative Ohio voters intended to not vote or vote for a third party candidate would you see them as contributing to the reelection of the President? If you knew that the same number of progressives intended to sit out the election would you see that decision as contributing to the defeat of the President? Don't pro-lifers make all sorts of arguments that inaction is morally condemnable? What makes that inaction morally problematic and voter inaction morally preferable?  I know one friend that has very strong opinions on the moral nature of casting a vote, and I am willing to be convinced on this issue by any side with a good argument.

Based on the expanded rationale, if Candidate N is actually a member of Party Z then there is absolutely zero logic in voting for Candidate N in hopes that it will reduce X. The idea that the best way to reduce X is to endorse and aid in empowering a collective group that embraces X as a good is nothing less than deluded wishful thinking.

The argument that restrictive laws in and of themselves increase abortion rates is demonstrably false on its face. Unless you think that contrary to everything we know there were more abortions in the United States prior to enacting the most permissive abortion laws possible in 1973. For more info on that, check this old post out.

I will post later on the idea of reducing abortions and the various things that can mean.  See What the Contraceptive Choice Study Really Shows for Serge's recent post on contraceptives reducing abortion.  


  1. One problem i see with voting for a pro-abortion candidate is that it diminishes pro-life influence on the party. It's short term thinking at the expense of the long term. Why should the party put forward a pro-life candidate if pro-lifers are going to lockstep behind the candidate anyway?

  2. Jay, how about this tweak to your first example:

    1) I hate X.

    2) Candidate N proposes policies N(a) through N(z). Policy N(r) facilitates access to X. Policies N(e), N(h), and N(s) decrease the occurrence of conditions under which X is actually implemented.

    3) I decided to support Candidate N because I believe their policies will most limit or reduce X.

    The question would then be whether you think policies N(e), N(h), and N(s) would actually have the indicated effect. And given the potential objections you mention at the end of the post (concerning contraception and restrictive laws), it seems you believe that this is a more accurate way of framing the issue, not the more easily dismissed example you offered at first.

  3. Hey Lapidarian,

    I think you may be right. I threw this up rather quickly and meant it to be general. I hoped people would criticize it like this to help see the premises that need to be addressed in this discussion.

    I do think that we need to keep 2) make your 2) now 3) and bump my 3) to the now new 4) and add the following to your 3): Policies N(e), N(h), and N(s) are not meant to address X directly but are argued to decrease the occurrence of conditions under which X is actually implemented.

    The fact that Candidate N sees X as a good speaks directly to whether any of the candidate's policies would be intended to reduce X. Given the candidate in question thinks X is a good it seems odd to believe that there would be any direct motivation to reduce it. For example, I may think that the death penalty is an overall good but support policies that prevent violent crime. If those measures reduced the number of violent criminals and then subsequently decreased the number of capital crimes committed that is interesting, but reducing execution was never my goal. I think that certain criminals ought to be executed while at the same time want those types of crimes reduced.

    Then maybe 3a) Decreasing or limiting X to some extent is a morally legitimate goal considering X qua X.

    I think then we have the two premises that need to be defended more clarified. 1. Do policies N(e,h,s) decrease the occurrence of conditions under which X is actually implemented? 2. To what extent if any is limiting or reducing X a morally legitimate goal?

    I also think that hating X is not the best phrasing as it fails to address the difference between subjectively and objectively argued criticism, but I as I said this post went up quickly.

    I'll keep chewing on this for a while. Thanks for the input.


  4. Lapidarion,

    I am drawn in so many directions that I forgot to reread my original post more clearly. I think you have actually offered a construction dependent on Candidate N being a member of Party Z so that both N and Z see X as a good. I think it is an important addition to my post and I am grateful, but I just remembered that my first example was meant to be absurdly general on purpose.

    I think your example offers good insight in to why someone who hates X for objectively moral reasons might support a candidate N in party Z.

    Thanks again.


  5. Drew,

    I have been thinking about your comment and trying to find a way to make it work in the construction of my second example. If you concede 6) are you adding a 6a) Short term losses in party wide power can be offset by long term gains in the acknowledgement of the power of those who hate X to cost Candidate N the election.

    I don't see how your position can support voting for a candidate that hates X in party Z (sees X as a good). There seems to be no gains by empowering party Z through direct action, so that leaves abstaining from voting to demonstrate your loss.

    The only problem here is that it is a risky venture. 6a) seems less than obviously true and is dependent on two ideas: By abstaining we can as a block cause the loss of candidate N and that Party Z will not be able to accomplish some greater fortification or expansion of X while temporarily empowered by virtue of our abstaining.

    If you do not cause the loss of candidate N you have exposed your weakness while trying to prove your strength and marginalized your future sway in party politics. For example, W Bush worked very hard to win the black vote in his first election (2000). He failed miserably and the massive majority of black voters went for Gore. Bush won anyway and in the next election (2004) spent considerably less energy in cultivating trust and good will with a block he knew would vote against him and without which he already won a general election.

    The second consideration is the more concerning to me. Of course then a better understanding of X is required but in general I don't think it is best to leave such things to chance.

    Also, I am not sure that voting in a manner that best serves the interest of fighting X in a more tactical manner hurts the X activists. As long as they are clearly articulating their strategy it is not lost on the party that they best not stray from their condemnation of X.

    Still mulling it all, but thanks for the extra fodder for thought.


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