Pull the lever

Why you should probably vote for the least bad party that can win in your constituency

It’s election day and we’ve got choices to make. Of course, we have choices to make every time an election comes around, but for many people – seemingly more than usual – none of the options are very appealing. As ever, there are only two parties capable of forming a government, but the realisation in recent years that both have serious problems with institutional racism has left many people feeling that voting for either is morally unacceptable.

So what should you do in this situation? Some of us are lucky enough to have an easy answer. If you live in a seat where another party (that you actually like) can win then you can simply vote for them. If you live in a very safe Tory or Labour seat then you can also vote for your favourite party knowing that it won’t affect the election result. But if you live in a Tory/Labour marginal, then I’m afraid that you are stuck in a trolley problem.

The trolley problem is a thought experiment where a trolley (or a train) is hurtling along and five people are tied to the track ahead. If you do nothing they will be killed. There is a lever to divert the train down another track to which one person is tied. If you pull the lever you will save five people but kill one – what is the morally right thing to do?

The point of the though experiment is to explore the moral equivalence between action and inaction: is doing nothing morally neutral, or are you responsible for five deaths? If you pull the lever are you a murderer or have you saved four lives? While this has been the subject of years of debate among moral philosophy undergraduates, empirical research suggests that nine in ten of us would pull the lever.

What this means is that most of us don’t consider abstention a morally neutral choice. If both options are unpalatable, but one is worse than the other, failing to choose the less bad option allows the worst to happen. If you find both the Tories and Labour unpalatable, but believe that one is worse than the other – for example if you oppose racism but believe in strong public services / think that nationalisation would be a disaster – then voting for a third party in a Tory/Labour marginal means you are not using your vote to prevent the worst outcome.

I’m not here to tell you what’s morally right, and the fact that nine in ten would pull the lever in a trolley problem means that 10% of us don’t think that’s the right thing to do. But if you are in the majority that would pull the lever, and you find yourself in a trolley problem today, then you should vote for the least bad candidate with a chance of winning, however unpalatable you find them.

2 thoughts on “Pull the lever

  1. Nomadic Pensioner

    Yes, absolutely. Makes the choice clearer. Vote Johnson = overall Tory majority = hard Brexit + rampant Conservatism for five years = five dead. Vote Corbyn = Labour minority government = muted Leftist policies + softer Brexit deal + referendum + another election in 2-3 years when better choices might be available = 1 dead.

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  2. David Muir

    Ah. Pulled the wrong lever. 10 dead…

    On Thu, 12 Dec 2019, 8:37 am The Policy Sketchbook, wrote:

    > thepolicysketchbook posted: “Why you should probably vote for the least > bad party that can win in your constituency It’s election day and we’ve got > choices to make. Of course, we have choices to make every time an election > comes around, but for many people – seemingly more than usua” >

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