Why Voting for the Man, Not the Party, Doesn’t Work

A few years ago, after choosing between two particularly uninspiring candidates on election day, I told my husband that I would no longer vote for the lesser of two evils. Instead, I would vote for the candidate who was pandering to the least dangerous constituency.

It sounds snarky, but I would argue that it isn’t a bad rule to follow.

Take Mitt Romney, the likely GOP Presidential nominee. My guess is that beneath that wooden exterior, he’s probably a capable enough manager–and not nearly as asinine as he sounds on the campaign trail. The problem is, if he were to be elected, he would still be beholden to the Tea Party crazies and Good Ole Boy racists he is frantically trying to woo during the primaries. Etch-A-Sketch or no, the systemic realities of our political system would operate to prevent moderation or compromise or evidence-based decision-making.

Here in Indiana, we have two major-party candidates for Governor, both of whom are well to the right of center. Pence, of course, is entirely a creature of the extremist Christian Right–if he’s ever had a truly independent idea, he’s hidden it well. Gregg is a conservative Democrat from Southern Indiana. If Pence wins, he won’t skip a beat: his policies will be tailored to his base, which is fundamentalist Christian, exploitative capitalist, and allergic-to-taxes Tea Party. If Gregg wins, however, he will have to moderate his positions in order to satisfy the Democratic base, which is far more diverse and progressive than he is. (As my youngest son likes to say, your vote for Governor will depend upon whether you want to return to the 1960s or the 1690s.)

Of course, if Rupert the Libertarian wins, all bets are off.

Candidates are captured by their political parties in a number of ways; they are not unembedded political actors no matter how much they’d like us to think they are. In some ways, that’s comforting; we rarely know what we need to know about the candidates themselves, so there is some logic in casting your vote for the person who belongs to the party with the philosophy closest to your own. Party affiliation is one among many “markers” that allow us to shortcut the decision-making process.

On the other hand, when one party goes “off the rails”–when the only people who can get nominated are those prepared to grovel to the basest of the base–average voters are deprived of the benefit of sound policy debates between serious candidates.

When elections devolve into battles between the bumper stickers, when candidates endlessly parrot  focus-group tested pieties, it isn’t possible to vote for the “best candidate.” It isn’t even possible to figure out who that is.


  1. I have actually changed my quip about the Governor’s race: it is actually a choice between the 1950’s (Gregg) and the 1590’s (Pence). Gregg doesn’t strike me as a 1960’s kind-of-guy, and Pence’s policies are likely drawn from the late 1500’s, not the comparatively modern 1600’s.

  2. A few years ago it was safe, and often smart, to vote for the man and not the party. Those were the days when intelligent, rational, logical, thinking candidates could be depended on to work togeher to resolve problems. This was the basis of Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope”; his hope was that this country could – and would – return to those days of sanity and action. I held that same hope but it has been destroyed by the GOP and Tea Party obstructionism and cartoon character potential presidential candidates. Our safest bet now is to walk into the voting booth and pull the lever for one party; currently the Democrats are the party of choice as the Republicans have become scary as hell.

  3. I lost faith in voting for the man not the party when all of the “conservative” Indiana blue-dog democrats voted as Nancy Pelosi made them.

  4. The individual candidate will always tote the Party Line, otherwise they will not have the support of the Party. The duopoly on the federal level is oozing down to the state level, though more rapidly to the Republicans. I will vote Green wherever possible, particularly for President. We have had enough of politics as usual.

  5. We don’t have nine parties to pick from on the ballot. Both of the main parties are, like it or not, “big tent”. More like enormous tent.

    I don’t know where the predispostion is to suppose all Republicans must be racist gay-haters who want their women barefoot and pregnant, any more that all Democrats are ready to to appear at the nearest polling place weilding a weapon, believing all benefits need only be based upon compassion versus funding, with government alone being the solution to all problems.

    I think most Americans are in the middle and indeed, election after election, try to choose the “lesser evil”. However, you need look no farther that our monsterous, bipartisanly created debt, deficit, and financial obligations to see how little they differ. As absorbed as the Republicans and Democrats are toward self-preservation of party versus common sense on behalf of constituency, what’s the big difference we’re supposed to discern?

  6. Like it or not, politics is a TEAM sport.
    One team looks backwards to a time that never was. The other tries to move us forward.
    It is like driving:
    To go Backwards, Select “R”
    to go Forwards, Select “D”
    This has been the case during my lifetime

  7. Anxiously waiting for a cogent response to Paul C and Mr. Crutchfield’s arguments. Well said.

Comments are closed.