Lesser of two evils principle
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The lesser of two evils principle (or lesser evil principle, lesser-evilism) is the principle that when faced with selecting from two immoral options, the one which is least immoral should be chosen.
In modern elections
In 2012, Huffington Post columnist Sanford Jay Rosen stated that the idea became a common practice for left-leaning voters in the United States due to their overwhelming disapproval of the US government's support for the Vietnam War. Rosen stated that: "Beginning with the 1968 presidential election, I often have heard from liberals that they could not vote for the lesser of two evils. Some said they would not vote; some said they would vote for a third party candidate. That mantra delivered us to Richard Nixon in 1972 until Watergate did him in. And it delivered us to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2000 until they were termed out in 2009." Opponents of the modern usage of these terms in reference to electoral politics include revolutionaries who oppose the existing system as a whole, as well as political moderates who advocate that third parties be given greater exposure in that system. For a particular voter in an election with more than two candidates, if the voter believes the most preferred candidate cannot win, the voter may be tempted to vote for the most favored viable candidate as a necessary evil or the lesser of two evils.
Supporters of lesser-evil tactics in the United States often cite United States politician Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns as examples of what can happen when a third-party candidate receives a significant number of votes. They claim that the mere existence of the third-party candidate essentially steals votes ("tilts" or "tips the scales") from the more progressive of the two main candidates and puts the election in favor of the "worse" candidate—because the small percentage that goes towards the third party candidate is a part "wasted" that could have instead gone to the lesser-evil candidate. For example, in 2000 as the Green Party candidate, Nader garnered 2.7% of the popular vote and, as a result, is considered by some U.S. Democrats to have tipped the election to Bush. One counterargument is that Nader's candidacy likely increased turnout among liberals and that Al Gore took four of the five states—and thirty of the fifty-five electoral college votes—in which the outcome was decided by less than one percent of the vote. Others argue that supporters of Nader and other third party candidates draw from voters who would not vote for either Democrats or Republicans.
In the 2016 US presidential election, both major candidates of the major parties—Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R)—had a disapproval rating close to 60% by August 31, 2016. Green party candidate Jill Stein invoked this idea in her campaign, in her slogan "Don't vote for the lesser evil, fight for the greater good".
In elections between only two candidates where one is mildly unpopular and the other immensely unpopular, opponents of both candidates frequently advocate a vote for the mildly unpopular candidate. For example, in the second round of the 2002 French presidential election, graffiti in Paris told people to "vote for the crook, not the fascist". The "crook" in those scribbled public messages was Jacques Chirac of Rally for the Republic, and the "fascist" was Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National. Jacques Chirac eventually won the second round having garnered 82% of the vote.
In the 2017 Hong Kong Chief Executive election, the "lesser evil" debate rose within the pro-democracy camp, as the pro-democrats did not field any candidate in order to make use of their votes in the Beijing-dominated Election Committee to boost the chance for an alternative establishment candidate. Some pro-democrats inclined to support John Tsang, a relatively moderate pro-establishment candidate to prevent a perceived hardliner Carrie Lam from winning. Radical pro-democracy legislator Leung Kwok-hung refuted the "lesser evil" strategy, thinking it would cost the pro-democrats' moral high ground and announced his own candidacy, in order to persuade the pro-democrat electors from voting for Tsang.
"Between Scylla and Charybdis" is an idiom derived from Homer's Odyssey. In the story, Odysseus chose to go near Scylla as the lesser of two evils. He lost six of his companions but if he had gone near Charybdis all would be doomed. Because of such stories, having to navigate between the two hazards eventually entered idiomatic use. Another equivalent English seafaring phrase is, "Between a rock and a hard place". The Latin line incidit in scyllam cupiens vitare charybdim (he runs into Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis) had earlier become proverbial, with a meaning much the same as jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Erasmus recorded it as an ancient proverb in his Adagia, although the earliest known instance is in the Alexandreis, a 12th-century Latin epic poem by Walter of Châtillon.
- False dilemma
- Necessary evil
- Principle of double effect
- Two wrongs make a right
- Stanford Jay Rosen (2012-09-25). "Don't Get Fooled Again: Why Liberals and Progressives Should Vote Enthusiastically for President Obama". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-03-23.
- Aaron Blake (2016-08-31). "A record number of Americans now dislike Hillary Clinton". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-31.
- "Chirac's new challenge". The Economist. 2002-05-06. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
- "'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung enters chief executive race, urging allies not to vote for 'lesser evils'". South China Morning Post. 8 February 2017.
- Definition from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English available online
- Noted by Edward Charles Harington in Notes and Queries 5th Series, 8 (7 July 1877:14).
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