One of the comments left on my recent post, Why Are the Religiously Unaffiliated Less Likely to Vote?, expressed the sort of frustration we have probably all experienced when it comes to voting. I thought it was worth addressing here because I agree with the commenter that it is an important reason why many religiously unaffiliated persons might skip out on voting. I have certainly found myself tempted not to vote because of it.
You can find the comment here, but I think it can be effectively paraphrased as follows:
If none of the candidates running in a particular race come close to representing my positions on the issues, it is difficult to want to vote for any of them.I imagine we can all understand this dilemma. I can certainly relate to it. I can't recall ever finding a candidate who fit more than 50-60% of my positions on the issues, and even that seems rare these days. Nearly all the candidates that show up on the ballot here in Mississippi spend much of their time pandering to Christians, and most actually seem to oppose the separation of church and state. Again and again, I am faced with the task of trying to figure out which is the lesser evil: a giant douche or a turd sandwich.
The recent senate election in Mississippi was a good example. Our incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R) was facing a challenger in the form of Travis Childers (D) who had been generating some buzz and was thought to pose a real threat to Cochran. Sen. Cochran has been in office for some time, and I've seen how bad he has been for Mississippi. It is safe to say that his positions on most of the issues are very far from my own. Thus, one might think that it would be easy for me to support Childers, the Democrat. But Childers actually ran to the right of Cochran on some issues and was supported by at least one of the Tea Party groups. While he was a better match with me on some issues, he was worse on others.
The way I tend to resolve this sort of thing is to prioritize the many issues I care about. I know I won't find a candidate who matches my views particularly well, so I have to identify the issues I care most about and look for fit there. It isn't always easy. In fact, there have been times when it was so difficult to do this that I almost couldn't bring myself to vote. But in the end, I often have to decide which of my choices would be less bad than the rest.
Some have suggested that the lack of openly atheistic candidates may be a reason why voter turnout is low among religiously unaffiliated voters. I imagine this may be true for some voters. For me, whether a candidate is an atheist is very low on my list of priorities. While it would be nice to see more openly atheistic candidates, I'd vote for a fiscally liberal Christian over a fiscally conservative atheist in a second. Again, it comes down to priorities. And while a candidate's support for the separation of church and state is a high priority for me, a candidate's personal thoughts and feelings about religion is not.
And while we're on the subject of priorities, I'd like to mention something that is absent from my list of priorities: my estimate of a particular candidate's odds of winning the election. I often vote for a third party candidates when I find one who is a much better match with my positions on the issues than either the Republican or the Democrat. I am regularly criticized for doing so by those who insist that the third party candidate has no chance of winning. But that argument carries little weight with me. I'm not going to support a candidate who is a worse fit merely because I think they are more likely to win. That would be a bit like rooting for a football team I didn't like just because I thought they would win the game.
Low voter turnout among religiously unaffiliated persons is an important topic, one which I expect you will be reading about in future posts here and around much of the atheist blogosphere. If those of us who say we want to live in a secular society are serious about it, I believe we are going to have to become more politically active. Voting is one way to do that.