The most pervasive interpretation of the electoral system which pervades social discourse paints politics as a binary choice in a zero-sum system. A vote for one candidate is not just a philosophical act of repudiation of their opponent’s ideas, but simultaneously an act which substantively detracts from their ability to win.
Such an interpretation is only possible in some abstract world of quantum politics, where the voter exists in a dual state of simultaneous support for two competing candidates and his inevitable selection of one over another subtracts from the pool of his opponent’s proponents.
That, obviously, is not how the corporeal world actually works. Majorities operate on the same principle as federalism in government- coalitions are built from the ground up by the actions of individuals making independent, volitional choices. While their decisions may have impact on broader social or political relationships, there is a chain of causality which cannot be ignored.
A vote for one candidate is a rejection of another, but only in the abstract realm of political philosophy. Yes, a vote for one candidate denies their opponent a chance to build on their coalition, but it does no substantive damage.
The faulty logic of those who advance the idea that a principled vote against one candidate actually just aids an opponent is in part due to a failure to understand the difference between a candidate and their platform.
When a vote for a candidate is simply the checking of a box to ensure the victory of a party and keep an opposing ideology out of office, their mistake is understandable. Under their epistemology, the candidate is merely the vessel which makes power usable. Obtaining power so that it can be meaningfully used is of greater importance than the philosophical questions of how and why one should utilize that power to the betterment of the polity.
This Machiavellianism stands in contrast with the rationales of ideological voters who care not just about the partisan affiliation of a candidate and the platform on which they stand but also the “why” behind their belief.
To the latter, the reasons candidates hold their position is significant- it demonstrates their professed belief are not just a self-aggrandizing pose adopted in order to gain power. It is a check upon the federal system and assuages the need of ideologues to insure venal and venial politicians do not just whisper seductive promises into the ears of voters but feel the same exigency towards the philosophy of political belief as they.
To them, the difference between thought and action is not insignificant; campaigns are not just about the politician saying the right thing, but their rationale. The chain of causality which is dismissed in the binary, zero-sum interpretation of electoral politics is the singular interest to those who view society primarily through a philosophical lens.
Also published on Medium.