In an ideal democracy, presidential elections would be far more involved than voters showing up to the polls and mechanically clicking the candidate in the “R” or “D” column. It would be about candidates connecting to voters and inspiring them. Voters would evaluate candidates holistically and weigh the issues that they value most. At the end of the day, voters would only select a candidate if they truly represented their views and provided an inspiring vision for the future.
We, of course, do not live in an ideal world, and meeting these standards is next to impossible. Yet, what separates the 2016 election from others in recent history is the widespread negative feelings toward both candidates, including from members of each candidate’s own party. Rather than a contest about which candidate has the better vision for America, the election has become a reality show of “whom do you hate more?”
An average of recent national polls shows that 52.3% of Americans find Hillary Clinton unfavorable, a spread of 9.1 points over the 43.2% who have a favorable opinion. The spread was as high as 18 points during July. Even worse, 60.2% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump in recent polls, compared to only 34.5% who have a favorable opinion. That adds up to a whopping 26.4 point spread. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac poll revealed that 46% and 53% of voters had a “strongly unfavorable” view of Clinton and Trump respectively.
The unfavorability spreads are only the tip of the iceberg in the negative feelings toward each candidate. According to the same Quinnipiac poll, 66% of Americans found Hillary Clinton to be dishonest, compared to 53% for Donald Trump. Similarly, the poll found that 65% and 64% of Americans respectively find that Clinton and Trump do not take accountability for their mistakes. Even worse, 60% of Americans believe that Hillary Clinton does not have to follow the same laws as everyone else, and 59% of Americans feel that Trump’s comments appeal to bigotry.
The results of these polls hardly paint a sterling picture of our major party candidates. We aspire for the President to be a renowned leader, to be an inspiration and a role model to the next generation. Instead, we have two candidates that are despised and mistrusted by large segments of the voting population. Objectively, the polls reveal that neither candidate is a leader in terms of policy and personality, which the American people feel they deserve. It is an unfortunate departure from the days when children admired and dreamed about becoming President of the United States.
However, the worst part about this election is that many voters are supporting their candidate of choice only because they hate the other candidate running. The previously cited Quinnipiac poll revealed that 47% of Clinton supporters are supporting her solely to defeat Trump, including 37% of Democrats. Even more extreme, 64% of Trump’s supporters are voting for him solely to defeat Clinton, which likewise included 59% of Republicans.
It is our civic duty as citizens to vote, and I hope that all citizens will, but you should absolutely not be compelled to vote for the two primary candidates. It may not accomplish much, but if you vote for a third party candidate or write in a candidate consistent with your principles, then you will be honest to yourself.
In the media, many supporters of each candidate have perpetuated this view that voters should vote for one candidate for the sole purpose of stopping the other. For example, Shaun King, a loyal Bernie Sanders supporter, wrote an in-depth editorial defending his decision to vote for Hillary Clinton solely to stop Donald Trump’s “bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, and terrible policy ideas.” On the other hand, Sean Hannity recently argued that anyone who refused to support Trump would have to “own” the consequences of electing Hillary Clinton.
In my opinion, the 2016 election could not sink to a lower low than these remarks illustrate. This is worse than insults, lies, unclassified emails, lewd comments, and everything else that has been revealed during this election because it shakes the pillars of our democracy to their core.
From a utilitarian perspective, these arguments seem to have merit. If you are a conservative, the consequences of a Hillary Clinton presidency are the worst possible outcome. During her presidency, she could have the chance to nominate several Supreme Court seats, increase regulation and taxation, and use executive action on issues such as gun control and affirmative action. She also will have the bully pulpit or the opportunity to direct the nation’s attention to her cherry-picked issues during the next four years. Thinking solely as a conservative, voting for anyone besides her strongest competitor is implicitly helping her cause. Essentially, Hannity and others argue “vote for Trump because he’s not Hillary.”
However, this is an extremely shortsighted view because it reduces candidates to their political affiliation. Even in this regard, these arguments usually highlight one or more hot button issues which divide the candidates, such as Court nominees or immigration. For example, many conservatives agree with Trump’s positions on taxation and Court nominees but strongly disagree with him on important economic issue like trade. Voting for Trump solely for the opportunity to nominate Court Justices fails to consider what impact Trump may have on our economy. Even if one issue is more important to you than others, you cannot reduce the election down to one issue to the reciprocal effects that the candidate has on other issues.
Furthermore, it is a flawed premise to reduce a presidential candidate solely to his or her positions on the issues. The president is the face of the United States and our representative to speak to other nations. He or she is entrusted with the safety and security of billions of lives worldwide. The president must serve as a role model and an inspiration to children in every country on the planet. Yes, policy is critically important, but prioritizing policy over the other responsibilities of the Presidency does great harm to our heritage and history.
What has happened to us as a citizenry? Are we so divided in mistrust and anger that we would ignore all of these factors just because we hate the other candidate more? Are we willing to accept lies, deceit, and insults simply because we think that the other candidate has done worse? If you cast your vote for any candidate, you implicitly say “yes, I condone everything that the candidate has said or done throughout the campaign cycle and even his/her career.” If we lose sight of this mark, then we forget the entire point of representative democracy, and the basic principle that the President and other elected leaders are first and foremost servants of the people.
Ultimately, we must ensure that the person who gains our approval for president is worthy of serving as the face of the American people. For this reason, we need to hold our candidates to the highest standard possible throughout the election cycle. We must question any positions or comments with which we do not agree. We must ask the hard questions and fact-check their responses. We must demand transparency and accountability to show that the candidate can be trustworthy. We must form a list of deal-breakers and then hold the candidates to account when they trample upon the basic rules of decency, which we are held to in our own lives. The fact of the matter is that any candidate who does not pass these rigorous measures does not deserve our vote.
When Ted Cruz told the attendees of the Republican National Convention to “vote [their] conscience,” he was booed off the stage and criticized as helping Hillary Clinton win the election. I challenge anyone who disagreed with the Senator’s comment to explain why he is wrong. Why should the American people compromise their principles to support a severely flawed candidate, whether on the Democratic of Republican side? Why should Americans lower their standards of honesty, integrity, and loyalty to vote for someone whom they truly do not support? To say that the other candidate is more corrupt does in no way suggest that your candidate meets a minimum threshold for decency which is so severely lacking in both candidates.
There will be many people on both sides of the aisle telling you that the “ends justify the means” in supporting either Trump or Clinton. Unless you are truly supportive of one candidate, these individuals are telling you that you must compromise your principles in order to preserve some lesser element of your beliefs during the next term. This paradox runs contrary to American democracy as an amalgamation of differing beliefs. To be forced into a binary choice is antithetical to the principle of a free democracy.
If you find that you are truly inspired and believe in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, then I fully encourage you to make your voice heard and vote for that candidate. But, to all those who believe that this election is akin to amputating either your right or left foot, I encourage you to not vote for either the Republican or Democratic candidates. It is our civic duty as citizens to vote, and I hope that all citizens will, but you should absolutely not be compelled to vote for the two primary candidates. It may not accomplish much, but if you vote for a third party candidate or write in a candidate consistent with your principles, then you will be honest to yourself.