In Defense of Single-Issue Voting

In Defense of Single-Issue Voting

The election looms, and we are all supposed to do our civic duty and pore over reams of information about the candidates and their positions on dozens of issues. If we don’t do so, if we make our choice based on the candidate’s stand on one issue we consider of utmost importance, then we are prime targets to be insulted as a “single-issue voter.”

Why are single-issue voters so maligned? Rarely is someone who is characterized as a single-issue voter uninformed about a candidate’s position on other, less important, issues, so it is not a question of ignorance. Whatever other reasons there might be, I think an unspoken reason why single-issue voters are demeaned is because they subtly go against the cultural tide of relativism. Single-issue voters see the world too much in terms of black-and-white; something may be true for you but you have to consider other factors as well. Don’t be so doctrinaire since there really is nothing that is more important than anything else. Relativists love to make the world as grey as possible.

Of course, the single issue that affects the votes of most people (on both sides of the issue) is abortion. So, people who are pro-life and vote only for pro-life candidates are often the target of smears that they don’t care about anything or anyone else (How often have you heard “If only you cared about the born as much as the unborn!”). But I imagine everyone reading this can imagine two or three friends who would never consider voting for a candidate who opposed same-sex “marriage,” or for one who supported or opposed the war in Eastasia, or for one who supports gun control. How many people would stress open-mindedness in considering the various policy positions of a David Duke, and not to get hung up on his racial views? So, there are plenty of people who are de facto single-issue voters who somehow don’t get stuck with the label; it’s mostly just pro-lifers.

Pro-lifers getting slapped with the “single-issue” epithet are essentially being told that abortion is no more important than war, capital punishment, budget issues, etc. Sadly, many Catholics are on the receiving end of this barb by other Catholics. The magisterium points the way, though:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia…There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia…

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

Pic by KCIvey

Moral theologians may disagree, but I can’t imagine the culpability is much lessened if we were talking about a Catholic voter (rather than a politician) who consistently campaigned and voted for more permissive abortion laws. So, Catholics have a perfectly acceptable defense for being single-issue voters. Despite it’s PR image, “choice” is really abortion, the mass slaughter of millions of babies annually. While it’s morally problematic to weigh issues based on the numbers of victims, it is hard to place an issue like capital punishment (where less than 50 executions occurred in 2010) or war (where most of the dead are combatants and not fully innocent) with abortion (millions of innocent babies killed by occasionally gruesome means in terrible conditions, all done legally).

The “multiple issue” voter will ask “Why should you care what candidates for mayor or dogcatcher think about abortion?” This seems like a valid question since very few politicians will have the chance to affect abortion law. But, as I heard Theresa Tomeo put it on an appearance on Catholic Answers Live a while back, if your mayor or dogcatcher fails on the most basic issue of whether unborn babies should be protected against murder, how can you trust their judgment on other matters?


  1. I used to be a little embarrassed when I realized I am a single-issue voter over abortion. I’m not embarrassed any more … this is such a great evil among us and the other “issues” people point to seem so selfish to me now: “My taxes … my job … my insurance … ” I’ll never stop using my vote to stop abortion.

    • I consider myself a single issue voter in regards to never (wittingly) casting a vote for any politician who favours abortion or euthanasia. I therefore have cast a write-in vote for the office of president for many a year.

  2. Rick Santorum told everyone they MUST vote for Pro-Abort Spectre over 100% pro-life Toomey in the 2006 PA primary. Santorum explained it was a political calculation so there was nothing wrong, and everyone still gushes over him as being a great person. I can’t reconcile that and your above post. Either ANY support of abortion or a candidate who supports contaminates everything and it is a true non-negotiable, or everything is a calculation about what is promised, what might happen in context, all with differing weights.

  3. Your assessment of single-issue voting is correct, but, as regards abortion, it misses the point. Most people do not object to voters casting their votes based on a single-issue. They object to issue of abortion trumping the issue of healthcare and poverty. The exposure of innocent children was a common practice in antiquity among Greeks and Romans and yet Christ has nothing whatsoever to say about it in the gospels and stresses the care of the sick and the impoverished. This does not of course imply that Christ condoned or was in favor of exposure; but it does indicate that abortion should not be accorded preferential treatment over other serious matters such as caring for the sick and the poor.

    • I disagree with your statement that Jesus didn’t address the idea of killing children. In Matthew 16, he takes his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a location with a massive rock and cave into which a river/waterfall flowed. It was here that the locals would cast babies into the depths as sacrifices to a pagan god – if blood was seen in the water on the other side, the God had rejected the sacrifice and another baby was sacrificed. From what I understand, this cave was understood to be something along the lines of “the gates of hell.” We hear St. Peter’s confession of belief in Jesus’s divinity and Christ responds, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the hell shall not prevail against it.” It seems clear to me that the characterization of hell, by Jesus himself, as a place where babies are destroyed – and the fact that it will not prevail against the Church – is quite a profound statement against actions such as abortion.

      Additionally, I can think of a few verses, such as, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me” (Matt 25:40) that certainly justify the prominence of abortion as political issues. Who else, if not an unborn child, is the “least” of Christ’s brothers? The poor and the sick at least have their lives. How can pulling someone out of poverty compare with saving the life of a most defenseless child?

      • Thanks for pointing out those verses, but I think you will admit that your interpretation of them (especially the second) is not obvious. And neither of them address my point at all. Again exposure of innocent children was widely practiced in antiquity throughout the ancient world. Archeologists in and around Rome and Athens have discovered literally tens of thousands of newborn skeletons attesting to how widespread the practice was. And our literary sources of ancient Greece and Rome testify to the same conclusion all the way up until the fall of Rome. And yet, considering just how common this practice was, there is not a single specific condemnation of it in the gospels. I grant that these verse may provide vague condemnation. But then I wonder why should the evangelists not be direct about such an issue? These verses may show that abortion and exposure were on Christ’s mind (which I don’t doubt). But to claim that they support abortion taking precedence over every other issue, especially care for the sick and the poor (issues on which Christ speaks directly and specifically on numerous occasions throughout the gospels), just does not follow from what we see and read in the gospels, and gives us a strong reason for believing that it was at most equally important to Christ as caring for the sick and the poor.

        • Anonymous, there is no evidence that first century Jewish culture tolerated or condoned exposure of children. So why would Christ speak to that issue? Are you suggesting that feeding the hungry or providing medical care for the sick would supersede saving an infant’s life?

          • There is archeological evidence that it was practiced in Palestine as well. Not to the degree that it was practiced in Greece and Rome but practiced there none the less. Again I am not suggesting that Christ condoned or approved of abortion or exposure, but his silence on the issue suggests and this constant attention to the needs of the poor and the sick indicate that he at most considered these equally serious. I am not taking the gospels to suggest that feeding the hungry and caring for the sick “supercede” an infant’s life, but I AM taking it to suggest that an infant’s life does not necessarily and automatically supercede the needs of the sick and the poor.

          • Jesus didn’t need to preach on things that his disciples already knew. The Old Testament is full of examples of children being a blessing from God, and there is that commandmend about murder. Therefore, killing babies would have been seen as clearly evil. So Jesus didn’t mention it. But the poor and the sick were often neglected, so Jesus gave us teaching to address that.

        • Your not caring for the sick and the poor does not necessarily equate to a death sentence for the sick and the poor, while your not actively voting to end abortion does necessarily end in death sentences – millions a year. How you can believe that these two things are morally equivalent reveals a serious lack of moral formation. Additionally, prudential judgment allows for many moral options in how we, as individuals and a society, can and should go about caring for the dick and the poor; in contrast, there is no room for prudential judgment with regard to abortion. It is everywhere and always a grave evil. The contrast in moral importance really couldn’t be more clear, my friend.

          • Erin: Why would you think that I “believe these two issues are morally equivalent”? I never said that and frankly I am somewhat offended that you would challenge my moral formation. I grant that my proposing this argument might suggest that I agree with the argument put forth. In fact I don’t. But, as I indicated at the beginning of my original comment, most people don’t object to the single-voter issue but rather the claim that abortion must be the single issue. My point was meant to challenge Tim’s characterization of the other side. In all things we must be charitable and even if the other side believes in something horrible, we must consider the possibility that they are simply confused rather than to assert that they are evil or lack proper moral formation.

            What I said in my post was that the gospels suggest that abortion does not automatically trump caring for the sick and the poor. This does not imply that they are morally equivalent. Your claim that “Our not actively voting to end abortion does necessarily end in death sentences” is false. There were political candidates long before Roe v. Wade who supported abortion rights for women. According to your claim, if I voted for them, my vote would necessarily lead to infant deaths, which it wouldn’t because it was illegal to procure an abortion at the time. Even after Roe v. Wade my vote does not necessarily entail that more abortions will occur. It’s possible that no one procures an abortion at all despite the election of pro-abortion candidate. Ultimately the people who procure abortions are responsible for their actions.

          • Murder is murder is murder.the poor we will always have, save the babies first.

          • I agree, but you’re missing the point. It’s a question of voting and what policies might produce results. There is evidence that wide-access to healthcare drastically reduces the overall number of abortions whereas there is no evidence that making abortion illegal will reduce the number of abortions. We have more accurate information about how many abortions occur in the United States precisely because it is legal to procure them.

          • Anonymous. Are we our brothers keeper? Is one impoverished soul more or less valuable than a fetus?
            Harm. Do we condone harmful actions by the logic that “ultimately it was their choice,” and sit by in silence as it’s not our business. Personally I believe we are at our best when we feed the POOR in Spirit as well as the Flesh. The message that prevails in todays America is sex without consequences, contraceptives the high wire….abortion the safty net.
            Legalized abortion affirms the sex without responsibility.
            Death of a human is the outcome.
            Healing comes to scared, even abused mothers…but you can not heal the dead. Do no harm to those that persecute you,….what harm has the fetus done to a mother that was raped, incest or otherwise?
            The fetus did no wrong. If true change is to come, we must look at how we treat the most helpless, especially the occupant in the womb.

    • You are missing the fundamental point. Reverence and respect for human life is the FOUNDATION of all ethics regarding treatment of human beings according to their dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. Also, there is need for the recognition that God is the author and master of human life. If one does not see that fundamental ethic from the gospels, then they must not be to familiar with them.

      If one does not oppose the killing of pre-born human beings, then there can be no true regard for God’s dominion over life or for human life at any stage or condition. There will always be some other motive or some disordered intervention in helping the poor and needy if it is not coming from this fundamental ethic. You cannot compartmentalize reverence for human life. It is either all or none. That is why this particular issue is a good litmus test for a full regard for human life. It speaks of respect for the reign of God and reverence for the life he creates which underscores everything. I hope that makes sense.

    • Anonymous: Your argument rests on a false distinction between “exposure of innocent children” and “murder of innocent children.” Christ clearly taught that murder was wrong. It is also clear that murder was “accorded preferential treatment” in Christ’s teaching (and every other sane legal or moral code ever adopted), inasmuch as it is obvious to common sense that murdering someone is worse than not caring for them.

      Second, the argument that “Christ did not SPECIFICALLY address it, therefore it must not be accorded preferential treatment over things he did specifically address” is hopelessly flawed, and I’m guessing that you yourself do not adhere to the conclusions of your own argument. Rape and pederasty were commonly practiced sins among Greeks and Romans. Christ did not specifically preach against them. Are we then to conclude that these sins should not be “accorded preferential treatment” over the sin of not caring for the poor? I honestly doubt you would support a priest or bishop, and oppose his resignation, who was complicit in covering up a pedophilia case in the Church, simply because he was a champion of caring for the poor. So why the double standard?

  4. A persons’ view on abortion gives a large clue to their worldview. This worldview either sees society at the service of humanity or it sees people expendable for the advancement of society. Abortion coldbloodedly murders a human being because it’s inconvenient to have them around. Abortion is only one issue but it points to the outcome on many other issues.

  5. Reverence for human life is the best litmus test for human integrity because all other morals fall into place behind that fundamental ethic.
    I thank you for bringing this up because I have had arguments with my own children about this. If a politician has an evil ideology about the expendability of human life, all other judgements and decisions he/she makes will be influenced by that world view of human life.
    It is the same for the immoral sexual behavior of certain politicians. Many are heard to say that it doesn’t matter what they do in private, it does not have anything to do with their ability to do their job. WRONG! It has everything to do with their work because their judgments and decisions are influenced by their behaviors and attitudes. This is such common sense I am aghast by how many do not recognize this. It is because common sense is not so common anymore.

  6. Some of us “Right to Lifers” work to establish homes for women in crisis pregnancy, encourage them to finish their high school education, and provide housing for them for a time (months or years) after they deliver their baby.
    We also try to encourage young people to finish their educations and marry before starting to have sex. Good Luck with that, but the sex education taught by much of the educational establishment is a major factor in the number of pregnancies among teenagers.
    So we earn the right to vote Single Issue. We are doing what we can to alleviate the problem.


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