It’s the all-important “litmus test” for candidates, or so we’re told by various Christian activist groups and lobbyists. If the candidate you support supports abortion, you shouldn’t vote for them. After all, a vote for a “pro-choice” candidate, or even a candidate who only supports abortion in cases of rape or incest, is tacit approval of the “culture of death.” Or so we’re told.
In truth, there are many, many problems with any sort of one-issue voting, no matter the election. Here, we will focus on the difficulties to such an approach to a presidential election. First, one must consider electability of a candidate. While symbolic voting is certainly an option come election day, the typical person concerned with moral issues enough to judge a candidate based off those issues will favor a more efficacious approach. Namely, the person will want his or her vote to lend itself to the nomination or election of a candidate favorable to the person’s moral viewpoint.
However, here might be encountered an odd contrast. While most voters concerned with moral issues certainly want to elect candidates that would address those issues, these same voters often cast ballots for fringe candidates that have no real chances of winning. Consider, for instance, candidates like Huckabee or Santorum or Fiorina. While these candidates may very well have passed (with flying colors!) the “pro-life” litmus test, they never really had a chance to win their party’s nomination, let alone a general election. Why, then, the fascination with these candidates? Why the wasted votes? Here is one of the errors of one-issue voting, especially on the so-called “life issues.” Candidates’ stances on abortion have very little bearing on the probability of their being nominated or elected. In fact, many candidates deemed “better” because of their stances on issues like abortion are less appealing to moderates; moderates, historically, are the voters that determine the outcome of a general election.
This being said, there is a greater danger in being a one-issue voter, even more so when that issue is a social issue. Namely, how do a candidate’s beliefs regarding a question of ethics at all affect that candidate’s fitness to be president of the United States? Does thinking that personhood is an innate quality found in a fertilized egg equip someone with the tools necessary to deal with economic downturns, bankrupt municipalities and fluctuating interest rates? Does conviction concerning the status of the rights of a zygote translate into aplomb when faced with an international crisis like the Syrian civil war or the terrorist attack on Brussels? Does a congressional record involving partial-birth abortion bans or the rejection of justices who favor the Roe v. Wade decision in any way make someone able to deal with racial tension or income inequality in the U.S.? To answer all these questions succinctly: no.
To return to a broader perspective: the president is the chief executive official in the federal government of the United States of America. As any fourth grader can supply, the role of the executive branch in the federal government is to enforce laws and provide police services at a national level. The president’s role in government, then, is to be the chief force behind the government’s mandate to protect its citizens, to ensure the rule of law. Consider this: is there any statistical backing for claims that suggest “pro-life” candidates are better suited for keeping the peace, guarding the citizenry? Do scholars regularly acclaim “pro-life” presidents for their being “pro-life,” and for the positive effects such had on the everyday workings of said presidents’ administrations? Is there any evidence that supports the idea that “pro-life” presidents are better presidents because of their ethical positions? If not, what are one-issue voters actually voting for – if general competency is not the measuring standard, what is? The thematic question of these considerations is a simple one, but a probing and uncomfortable question, nevertheless: are one-issue voters, specifically those whose “litmus test” is abortion, more interested in the private beliefs of elected officials than in an actual skill set that would make the official best-suited to the office for which he or she is running?