Voting the Entirety of One's Conscience

I would be interested in opinions about this.

It has become proverbial in the United States that we choose between the lesser of two evils at election time. While each candidate for a public office has his partisans, it seems that there is a vast number of voters who feel a compulsion each election cycle to select the candidate they feel will do the least damage and bring about the least amount of evil.

As melancholy as the situation is, there is logic to voting in that manner. It seems to be of common sense that lesser evils are to be avoided to greater ones. Interests and issues can be ranked according to priority for each individual voter, and it seems plausible that, in a democracy where compromise must happen, each voter should vote in accordance with that ranking.

This works well if a voter perceives that there is only one issue where true good and evil are at stake, and that the rest of the issues, while susceptible of a preference, are morally neutral…But there are many elections where a voter may feel that there is more than one moral issue at stake.

I think this is very true. Voters are going to vote with the interests that are most real and most important to them, and issues that affect them and those they know will rank higher and that’s just the way it is. People can call them selfish, but those people don’t pay the voter’s taxes, the voter’s healthcare bills, the voter’s food and shelter. Other People can’t resolve the issues that are near to the voter. Each voter will always vote for the issues that are most important to them. And not all voters rank each of the issues in the same order. That’s life. That’s the way it is. YOUR (not you, the OP) issues may be important to you, but they’re not as important to the next voter. Also, some issues are not going to be easily resolved just because a candidate agrees with the voter on that particular issue. So why throw all the other important issues to the wind when that one issue can’t be resolved as easily as others will anyway.

For example, looking at local elections, if someone is struggling to pay for their property taxes, that someone is less likely to vote for a candidate that will raise property taxes, and is more likely to vote for the candidate that promises not to raise property taxes. After all, it’s not like another voter who disagrees that property taxes are important is going to pay for the voter’s taxes for him. No, the voter has to pay for their own property taxes or lose their home. If you can’t resolve another person’s crises, you’re not going to dicate how they should vote. They’ll vote with matters that are important to them in their mind.

From the linked article:

"Since a voter has a choice whether he will vote at all, he is not exonerated of the evil that his chosen candidate commits, and has announced beforehand, because he did not vote for the candidate who would have done worse things."

Voting for the lesser of two evils involves both despair and moral compromise. Politics should not be allowed to be so soul-damaging.”

I tend to agree with this article.
When I look at our political landscape, I do not want to make a vote for “the lesser evil” as if I were making some reversed Utilitarian choice. I have been disgusted at how the Christian vote has been manipulated by the various social issues stances of candidates. One promises to help the poor, the other to end abortion, to stop war, etc and none of these gets done, yet we voted for one of them anyway.

There has been no real Christian candidate of choice for decades, IMHO.

Believers are being used to further political party supremacy, not to help others. We might want to heed this article and use the power of our vote in way that we are not complicit with the evil that politicians do and the lies they tell to gain power.

It is time for real hope, change and family values and all of the other slogans we have heard given lip service.

There are at least two serious problems with the author’s position. The first is the common assumption that prudential problems like providing medical care are moral issues in the same way that abortion is. This is incorrect: there are in fact very few true moral issues; most are merely political. That is not to say they aren’t major - or even life and death - questions for some people but because a problem is a serious one doesn’t make it a moral one. Regarding the author’s example or providing medical care, the choice isn’t between those who want to provide it and those who don’t but is between those who disagree on how it should be provided. It is a disagreement over what will work, not whether or not one should help.

The other problem is his disparagement of choosing the lesser of two evils with the analogy of helping a thief rather than helping a murderer. That’s a bad analogy as it categorizes the action as choosing to help one or the other. Suppose we look at it as a choice not between helping one or the other but of stopping one or the other. If two crimes were occurring simultaneously - a murder and a robbery - which would you choose to stop? You cannot stop them both but surely if you had it in your power you would at least stop one of them and it seems clear to me that if there is a choice then you should choose to obstruct the more serious problem.

I think this is covered by the principle of double effect. If the good we do is intentional (stopping a murder) and the bad (the robbery) is an unintended consequence then we have satisfied that criterion. The author has completely ignored the contribution intent pays in determining whether an action is moral.


I agree with Ender. It’s not so much a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, as it is of preventing the worst of two evils. One tries to prevent the greater moral evil.

That’s just reverse Utilitarianism… it is not proactive, but rather reactive.
If we lived our whole life this way, we would not make any progress towards the good.

Of course we can make progress for the good. But if we refrain from voting because both candidates favor some particular moral evil, we will never vote, and never change anything.

I never said we shouldn’t vote. I believe it is time to start creating and supporting candidates that are not allied to making a party stronger with empty promises. Not voting is reactive, also.

Which oftentimes you can’t do by voting. How many times have you voted for someone only to have them act in ways that were contrary to what they said before the election? Any number of times I’ve sat there and thought, “Well, this ain’t what you said before. I wouldn’t have voted for you if I’d known you were going to do this,” usually with a :mad::mad::mad: look on my face.


It’s an old saw, but if I don’t vote I have no right to complain about the government I’ve got. My one ballot, although a tiny drop in the electoral bucket, is my loudest voice in affecting change in my government.


The author’s premise is incorrect both from its logical assumptions and its moral ones. Prudential choices are not moral issues and should not be treated as such. The decision whether to help or not is a moral choice but once that choice is made the options before us involve questions of what will or will not work, and there is no moral question involved in preferring option A over option B.

Your (apparent) preference for voting for a third party candidate with no chance of being elected is an entirely prudential tactic. Morally your position is surely not superior to that of the person who chooses between the lesser of the two evils knowing that one or the other will be elected. You may claim your position is tactically superior but you cannot claim it is morally so.


If you never work for change, there will be no change.

I never said it had to be via a third party candidate… So far I have been told I prefer a third party candidate or that I prefer not voting… neither of which is correct.

You think it is about voting the lesser evil… which is still evil. Would God think that was the thing to do? To sin a lesser sin over a greater one?

Just some things to think about, because I do not think those that hold that view are morally superior, either.

Yes, that’s a danger. I voted for Jimmy Carter, only to discover much later that most of his appointments to the federal judiciary at all levels were pro-abortion. Now, he comes out with anti-abortion views!

That’s why I said I was making an assumption - you haven’t made your position clear. It would be helpful if you were more specific. Now I’m curious: is there a fourth option other than not voting, voting third party, or choosing between bad and worse?

You think it is about voting the lesser evil… which is still evil. Would God think that was the thing to do? To sin a lesser sin over a greater one?

This is a mischaracterization of the choice. Faced with a choice between bad and worse there is no sin in choosing the bad. As I said before, it is a question of an action with double effect, the good one intended and the bad one not. There is no sin involved with making such a choice.


From the way it reads and the links on the site I view it as an attempt to convince those most likely to vote against Obama not to vote at all.

I will point back to the article again:

"Voting for the lesser of two evils involves both despair and moral compromise. Politics should not be allowed to be so soul-damaging."

This is the real question.

Our choice of political candidates is not one that is out of our control. As I said before, the key is to be proactive (create political circumstances) and not to be reactive (just vote for the lesser of two evils that appear on a ballot).

In a democratic republic, such as the United States, things didn’t get the way they are because of massive public participation at the local, much less federal level. It is time to rethink our duties as citizens and how we create political change. Just showing up at election time and voting for “the lesser evil” is not responsible citizenship. That is when we face this false Utilitarian dilemma.

The Catechism says:

1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

  • by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
  • by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
  • by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
  • by protecting evil-doers.

1869 Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.”


Voting for the “lesser” evil is just helping social sin.

There is no clear cut answer, as some here want, but I can say this: if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem - just voting for the lesser evil is a moral choice and not a very good one, IMHO.

If a person worked at whatever level they could politically and socially to create a more just and godly society, then even if they did not vote for any of the lesser evils or protested with a “wasted” vote as someone called it, for another less-popular candidate, that would still be far more proactive than showing up at election time and wondering why I can only vote for Satan or Beelzebub and have no other alternative.

If we are not creating a better political clime by whatever means we realistically can, then we will only be left with the choice that many seem to think is just the way it is. Complicity with social sin is not something we are forced to do. Besides, there is not always a “lesser” evil to choose from - sometimes evil is just evil. As I have said before, Utilitarian choices are not moral choices for good.

P.S. I am sure some of you have seen this at the top of the Forum:

Not every vote involves a choice between the lesser of two evils. Some political choices are simply prudential judgments between alternatives, not choices between two evils. But there are some direct evils such as abortion and euthanasia that we should never vote in favor of, or for a candidate who endorses them. In the current situation, I would add religious freedom to the list, since it appears to be in jeopardy.

But I do agree that Catholics must be involved in the political process if we do not wish to lose our freedoms or cede the political sphere to secularism. How we get involved is also a prudential judgment.

I whole-heartedly agree … amen

From the article: But there are many elections where a voter may feel that there is more than one moral issue at stake. For example, the voter may be pro-life as to abortion, but may also believe that the larger community, represented by the organs of the state, has a duty to ensure that the impoverished are provided with the necessities of life, including medical care. In the contemporary political landscape of the United States, this voter is faced with a conundrum.

I have not heard of any elections at which the candidates pose a choice between abortion and help to the needy, so I have a problem with this one part.

However, both parties do seem to have a problem with interfering in the internal affairs of other nations to a point which I consider immoral. Some people force nations to institute “family planning” programs or we will not help them–that seems very wrong to me. Other people institute programs in other nations which undermine the internal workings of the nation, and that also seems immoral to me.

Also from the article: If voters stop engaging in the practice, and simply stop voting for candidates who they feel will do evil on any level, the two major political parties may be compelled to seek out those voters with changes in both their positions and their candidate nominations.

I do not think that abstaining from voting is a good idea, either, because it doesn’t really “send a message.” It woudl send a message if the party(ies) one didn’t vote for were affected by the decision and knew why it was made, but there are plenty of other voters, all that abstaining from voting accomplishes is that the parties need to appeal to a smaller group of voters–those who are still voting.

From the article: That effort could be enhanced if voters of like mind organized for the purpose of identifying the position requirements of candidates who would obtain their votes.
This is probably the only thing in the article I can agree with, but in practical terms, can Catholics get themselves together to accomplish this? Many of us disagree with the means by which aid to the poor is handled, many of us disagree with the need to illegalize abortion. I am not sure that we can do more than we are doing now.

This seems to be the camp I’m falling into. Hoping in the near future, the Repubs will reform themselves into something I can again support. A stinging loss may trigger just such a change.

Remember, there are always other issues to be decided, besides candidates.:wink:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit