What is Lesser of Two Evils?

Definition and meaning of lesser of two evils: The term "lesser of two evils" in politics refers to a situation where voters face a choice between two major-party candidates, neither of whom they find particularly appealing, but feel compelled to vote for the one they perceive as less undesirable. For example, a voter might not like either the Republican or Democratic candidate in a presidential election year, but will vote for one of them to keep the other, "worse" candidate out of office.

The pattern of "lesser of two evils" voting arises in a political landscape where the electoral system discourages diversity, typically due to a winner-takes-all or first-past-the-post voting system. As a result, the most viable candidates are often from the two dominant parties.

This phenomenon is also related to the practice of strategic voting, which occurs when voters choose a candidate not because they align closely with their views but because they want to prevent the election of another candidate they oppose more strongly. This is often a choice made out of pragmatism rather than enthusiasm. In highly polarized political environments, the decision often revolves around negative partisanship — voting against a candidate or party rather than for the preferred policies or qualities of the other candidate.

Below are some of the main implications of "lesser of two evils" voting:

  1. Voter Disenfranchisement: The lesser of two evils choice can lead to voter disenfranchisement, as people may feel that their true preferences are not adequately represented. This can lead to voter apathy and disengagement from the electoral process.

  2. Barrier to Third-Party Candidates: This dynamic acts as a significant barrier to third-party and independent candidates who might align more closely with the values and preferences of many voters. The fear of "wasting" a vote on a less viable candidate often drives voters back to the major political parties, perpetuating the two parties' dominance.

  3. Reduction in Policy Diversity: The phenomenon can lead to a narrowing of policy debates and choices, as candidates from major parties often have overlapping positions on many key issues, limiting the range of options available to voters.

  4. Influence on Political Discourse: The lesser of two evils voting can contribute to a negative and defensive political discourse, focusing more on the flaws of candidates rather than constructive policy discussions.

The lesser of two evils phenomenon encapsulates the frustration and limitations that many voters experience, highlighting the need for comprehensive electoral reform. Alternate voting systems, increased political diversity, and campaign finance reform are all avenues that reform-minded individuals are pursuing to alleviate this problem. By advocating for and implementing reforms, it is possible to transform the electoral landscape into one where voters feel genuinely represented and engaged, rather than resigned to choosing the lesser of two evils.


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