The Rationality of Voting and Duties of Elected Officials

In Emily Crookston, David Killoren & Jonathan Trerise (eds.), Ethics in Politics: The Rights and Obligations of Individual Political Agents. New York: Routledge. pp. 239-253 (2017)
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In his recent article in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 'The Paradox of Voting and Ethics of Political Representation', Alexander A. Guerrero argues it is rational to vote because each voter should want candidates they support to have the strongest public mandate possible if elected to office, and because every vote contributes to that mandate. The present paper argues that two of Guerrero's premises require correction, and that when those premises are corrected several provocative but compelling conclusions follow about the rationality of voting and duties of elected officials: (A) Voting is typically rational for the members of a political party’s base; (B) Voting is often (but not always) irrational for “swing” voters (i.e. independent voters who are not affiliated with any political party, as well as “undecided” voters who are considering voting across party lines); and (C) Elected officials have a moral duty to respond to changing levels of popular support once in office, as indicated by properly monitored and corroborated public opinion polls of constituents, functioning more as delegates the lower their level of popular support. Finally, I suggest that the last of these conclusions has wide-ranging implications for political ethics. I illustrate these implications by focusing on the questions -- under debate in the 2016 US Presidential election cycle -- of whether a sitting President has a moral duty to nominate or not nominate a new Supreme Court justice during his or her final year in office, and similarly, whether US Senators have a moral duty to obstruct, or not obstruct, confirmation of the President’s eventual nominee.

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Marcus Arvan
University of Tampa


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