There are many challenges facing our nation today, and those challenges become the issues around which political candidates build their campaigns. Each of us may prioritize those issues differently, often depending primarily on two things:
How well we actually understand a given issue
How much impact the issue has on our own life
A recent survey by ABC News lists the top 15 issues Americans are most concerned with:
- 54% – The availability and affordability of healthcare
- 53% – The economy
- 51% – The possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S.
- 46% – The Social Security system
- 46% – The size and power of the federal government
- 46% – The way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S.
- 43% – Hunger and homelessness
- 43% – Crime and violence
- 39% – Illegal immigration
- 38% – Drug use
- 37% – Unemployment
- 34% – The quality of the environment
- 28% – The availability and affordability of energy
- 28% – Race relations
- 25% – Climate change
I imagine it will come as no surprise to most readers of this blog to find that my own top four priorities from this list are #14 – Race relations, #7 – Hunger and homelessness, #15 – Climate change, and #12 – Quality of the environment. Actually, I see #12 and #15 as being intertwined. I would also add a couple that are not on the list – Wildlife protection and LGBT rights.. Interesting that none of my top priorities align with the national average, isn’t it? Not surprising, though, as I tend to swim upstream.
Amidst all of my rambling here, there is a point. The point is that there are many issues at stake, many challenges our nation needs to deal with, and they are all important. One cannot single out just one issue to the exclusion of all else. The next president and Congress will certainly have to address all the above-listed issues and much more, such as the refugee crisis and foreign trade.
Unfortunately, it appears that many citizens in this contentious election year have seized on a single issue on which to select not only the president, but also senators and representatives. These people are known as ‘single-issue’ voters. The term single-issue voter describes people who may make voting decisions based on the candidates’ stance on a single issue (e.g. “pro-life” or “pro-choice”, support for gun rights or gun control). The existence of single-issue voters can give a distorted impression: a candidate’s overall views may not enjoy the same support. For example, a person who votes for a socially conservative Republican candidate, based solely on his or her views on abortion, may not necessarily share the candidate’s views on other issues, such as gun rights, immigration or climate change.
I do not attempt to tell a person how to prioritize the list of issues … that is a personal decision and we are each entitled to our own ideology. However, I do argue against the principle of voting for a particular candidate based solely on his/her view on a single issue. Never will a candidate completely match our opinions on every issue, but it is important that we elect officials whose values most closely match our own. In a democracy, it is both a privilege, but also a responsibility to be informed about all the major issues in any election. Until the advent of the Internet, voters had to work to be informed about the issues, but today, with a few clicks of a mouse, practically everyone in the country can get reliable (or sometimes less-than-reliable) information in a short period of time. There is no excuse to be uninformed!
It is human nature to be most concerned and interested about the issues that directly impact our lives. If you are unemployed, or struggling to make your paycheck last until the end of the month, then certainly you will be most concerned about the economy, unemployment, and wages. If you or a family member is suffering from a serious illness, healthcare may be among the most important issues for you. All of which is normal and perfectly understandable. However, it is a mistake to focus on one particular issue to the exclusion of all others. You and your family will also be impacted by such issues as the environment, racism, the threat of terrorism, and in short, every single issue that the government will be making decisions about. One cannot simply bury one’s head in the sand on all but one or even two issues. We must consider long-term consequences, as well as others besides ourselves.
Those who claim not to care about such things as climate change or the refugee crisis are wearing very thick blinders and are doing a disservice to not only every person in our nation, but around the globe. Domestic issues that hit closer to home may well be a higher priority for most people, but that does not mean we can simply put on our blinders and ignore what is happening in the EU, in the Middle East, in the African nations, or Turkey. We cannot, as we are a part of the world, be merely a stand-alone player. It is no longer possible to take an isolationist stance, as we discovered some 75 years ago.
Those who would vote for a candidate only because he says he will nominate a Supreme Court Justice who will ‘overturn Roe v Wade’, or vote against a candidate only because she says she will ‘take on the NRA’ are casting their vote foolishly to the wind. There is no single issue that overshadows or dominates all others. They are all important, and each one will impact our lives in one way or another. ‘Single-issue voting’ may be arguably the second most ridiculous method I can think of. What is the first? Voting for someone based on physical appearance, race or gender. Some do. Sigh.