America has always prided itself on the freedom it offers its citizens. Freedom of speech enables political discourse, freedom of the press allows the People to lift the veil covering the Politicians and freedom of protest has served as a microphone for the oppressed.
Freedom of choice, too, is a long-tooted aspect Americans relish. At the grocery store, there are multiple types of chocolate chips, chunks and bars. At the post office, countless stamp designs. In the education system, district, charter and private options.
Such freedom of choice ideally enables Americans to consider multiple aspects of nearly anything they purchase to find the option that fits the most of their many wants and needs. Yet the same analysis of a carton of free-range vs pasteurized eggs is increasingly not applied to much more important choices: elected politicians.
For decades, single-issue voters have stayed loyal to politicians through thick and thin; from voting for invading Afghanistan in 2001 to standing by President Trump in the aftermath of the attempted Capital coup in 2021, countless voters stubbornly stand behind politicians because of their stance on a single issue.
Whether it’s healthcare or same-sex marriage, voters are willing to forgive racism, reckless behavior during COVID-19, sexual assault allegations and problematic voting records so long as their politician keeps specific ideology on controversial topics.
What does this lead to?
For-life politicians who do little to advance the issues they claim to fight for, in order to keep single-issue voters in the palm of their hand.
Nowhere was single-issue voting more prevalent than in this past presidential election. An ABC poll conducted in March 2020 found that of Michigan Democrats voting in the state primary, 57% listed their top priority as defeating Donald Trump in the presidential election. By contrast, only 34% of the polled voters cared that the Democratic nominee shared similar views with them.
Across the aisle, single-issue voting is just as prevalent.
Since 2001, at least 29% of American voters have identified that a candidate agreeing with them on abortion is the most vital factor determining whether or not that candidate secures their vote. The same study found that this devotion to a single issue is much more popular among the Republican voters of the country.
Tyler Reeves, a middle-aged man, acknowledged that he voted for Trump in 2020 because “[as] a Christian, he’s the candidate that most aligns with my values on abortion.” Reeves had never voted before and reported that he didn’t like Trump’s history of tweets, racism or homophobia. Yet, Trump’s pro-life stance was enough to win Reeves’ vote.
Undoubtedly, issues like abortion, gun control and defeating Donald Trump were and are important to voters. The true detriment to democracy begins when issues like abortion, gun control and defeating Donald Trump are the only policies evaluated by voters.
The Democratic party’s insistent support of President Joe Biden on the basis that it was believed he stood the best chance of beating Trump is now, in July, leaving countless Democrats upset with how little Biden has done to progress pressing issues. Earlier this year, Biden gave up fighting for a $15 minimum wage to pass as part of the COVID-19 relief package, a decision that left many of his supporters feeling that they had wished for a more progressive candidate, like Senator Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, instead. Because so many Democrats only wanted to get Trump out of office, many ignored what would happen after the fact.
Biden’s lack of action is clearly reflected in conservative lawmakers as well, who similarly were elected because of a single aspect of their campaign.
For instance, take for-life politician and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been in office for over 36 years. One of McConnel’s main selling points is his promise to be a “firewall” against socialism. Yet in his multi-decade career, he is notorious for blocking many bills.
In 2017, McConnel was an advocate for a tax cut applying to the wealthiest of American corporations, and though passed, the economy never grew by 3% as he and his fellow Republican Senators claimed it would. Despite this bill being one of the few “anti-socialist” actions he took, McConnell’s approval ratings stayed the same, at 70% (note that his approval ratings have plummeted since he and former President Trump fell out), because he kept promising he was anti-communism, even if he was doing little to advance such views.
Time and time again, McConnell was reelected, despite countless eyebrow-raising moments of McConnell’s career, including how he made a mockery of the sexual assault allegations made against conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, calling them “a little like Groundhog Day.”
At the end of the day, Americans have the freedom to vote for who they please for whatever reason they please. This, in itself, is a core value to democracy.
Yet as more and more young people begin to dip their toes in the electoral process, it is necessary to remind voters that just as one may keep in mind allergies and price while grocery shopping, one should consider numerous parts of a politician before sending them to D.C.