James Kushiner on Single-Issue Voting

James Kushiner of Touchstone magazine has some apt reflections on the idea of single-issue voting:

‘But the labeling of some voters—all, it seems, on the “right” and usually pro-life—as “single-issue” voters, as if they are narrow-minded and unthinking participants in our national life, seems quite narrow-minded itself. . .

‘When it comes to exercising their right to vote, they, like their critics, cast one whole undivided and single vote for each candidate based on what they think is most important. All principled voting ends up being single-issue. We just don’t agree on which principles come before others concerns. Our critics have their own.’

I couldn’t agree more with Kushiner’s assessment. Except perhaps for amoral anarchists, every decent person is a single-issue voter. There are certain issues that decisively determine whether or not to cast one’s vote a certain way.

If a candidate wanted to revive slavery in the United States, on that single-issue alone decent people would reject his candidacy. If a candidate wanted to legalize wife-beating, on that single-issue alone decent people would reject his candidacy—no matter how good his views on other matters might be.

On a moment’s reflection, it is clear that single-issue voting is really not that controversial. What people disagree about is what issues should have such a priority. Pro-lifer’s have typically argued that the value of innocent human life is so great that one might cast a vote based on that single issue.

Now that the high political season has come to a close, this would be a good time for citizens to ponder this question. “Is the abortion issue a transcendent issue for me? Is protecting innocent human life important enough to determine my vote?”

I hope that in the next election cycle more people will be answering those questions in the affirmative.


  • Russ Ware

    “Except perhaps for amoral anarchists, every decent person is a single-issue voter.”

    This statement is complete and baseless balderdash.

    I think the logic in Kushiner’s article is a little skewed, but he doesn’t even go so far as to make such a statement.

    I have complete respect for anyone who voted for McCain because of the pro-life cause. I have respect for those who felt that this issue trumped all others.

    But to suggest that those of us (pro-life or not) who were unable in the end to see this issue (or any other) as the single consideration, for any number of reasons, are not “descent people,” or are amoral anarchists is absurd, not to mention offensive.

    I’m truly surprised by the statement, even from you, Denny.

    As to the two questions, I agree that the answer to both should be in the affirmative, applied then to elections in a thoughtful and prayerful way.

  • Don Johnson

    I do not agree with Denny’s claim that “except for amoral anarchists, every decent person is a single issue voter.”

    Just as a simplistic example, a person may decide that 3 things are equally important in the election and find that he agrees with one candidate on one of them and a 2nd candidate on 2 of them, so he casts his vote for the 2nd party. He finds there is no candidate that perfected represents what he believes.

    It is certainly allowed that a person gets to decide how to cast his vote by any method he devises.

  • D.J. Williams

    I think you guys missed Denny’s point. He’s saying that all people have some issue that would preclude them for voting for a candidate. To illustrate this, he gave the examples of reinstituting slavery and legalizing wife-beating.

    Is that not pretty clearly the case?

  • Don Johnson

    I think your wording makes it more clear.

    But that does not solve the voting question in all cases.

    What if both candidates held to the position? Or if neither did?

    There is also an awareness issue, which changes over time. In 1800 no one thought anything about both candidates being for slavery, for example, or even owning slaves. It was a non-issue.

  • Paul


    Those are both such absolutely ridiculous examples though that Denny SHOULD be openly mocked for even using them.

    Outside of Ike Turner’s memoirs, when was wife beating ever considered a wonderful thing?

    And slavery has been considered a shameful part of our past for what, at least the past 100 years or so?

    Now, contrast that with abortion, no matter how heinous it is. South Dakota couldn’t even pass an abortion ban, complete with clauses for the health and life of the mother. It still lost by an almost 20% margin.

    Telling me that I should vote for any number of horrible candidates that don’t like poor people or polar bears simply because they’re smart enough to give lip service to some mouth breather in West Virginia is insane.

    I live in a state where abortion on demand, sadly, will always be available. So, if you want me to vote for a pro-life candidate, that’d better be a candidate that agrees with me on a host of other issues.

    This time, no one agreed with me. So, I just voted for the candidate furthest to the left on the ballot in Illinois. Which, sadly, was Nader. But, at least I was able to sleep at night.

  • Brian Krieger


    I’ve written and rewritten this. I read your comments and others like it and I am struck with an incredible sense of incredulity (as, I’m sure, you are as well). It saddens me that abortion isn’t seen as the atrocity it is. It saddens me that we can look and with great ease call slavery shameful and an atrocity but then say there are many issues alongside abortion. It’s sad that SD couldn’t get an abortion ban passed. I think it shows how we have devalued innocent lives and how we have desensitized ourselves by myriad excuses and justifications. The SD vote also demonstrated the influence of RvW (one of the major objections was the amount of tax dollars spent fighting against lawsuits to defend it. A defense that would be met with loss given the current (and now future) SC compilation…..). I think it’s also sad that abortion is an industry. It generates money. Much of that under the guise of any ban being government intrusion into the private medical decisions that affect how doctors treat women while no consideration is taken for the life of the child.

    At best, I think in the next 4 years we’ll see no changes in the extension of RvW. At worst, we will see FOCA passed, funding cut for crisis pregnancy centers and a roll against the modest gains pro-life has seen in the last decade or so (just under).

  • Russ Ware

    I think Kushiner’s characterization of the typical voter is probably pretty accurate. The tortured logic is in calling that “single issue voting.”

  • Branden

    Scott is the last name.

    Don Johnson:
    In 1800 no one thought anything about both candidates being for slavery, for example, or even owning slaves. It was a non-issue.

    I am not sure that is entirely accurate. The time frame was a little earlier for the actual beginnings of the movement to end, though actual results re after the date you gave. From the always to be doubted for its accuracy wikipedia:

    Abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and emancipate slaves in western Europe and the Americas. The slave system aroused little protest until the 18th century, when rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the rights of man, and Quaker and other evangelical religious groups condemned it as un-Christian. Though antislavery sentiments were widespread by the late 18th century, they had little immediate effect on the centers of slavery themselves — the West Indies, South America, and the southern U.S. In 1807 the importation of African slaves was banned in the U.S. and the British colonies. Slavery was abolished in the British West Indies by 1838 and in the French possessions 10 years later.

  • Darius T

    “In 1800 no one thought anything about both candidates being for slavery, for example, or even owning slaves. It was a non-issue.”

    This is not true. Thomas Jefferson wrote extensively against it. What no one had the guts to do was actually make it part of their political platform until Lincoln.

  • Branden

    I was speaking in generalities. Many of the early presidents were slaveholders.

    And in many countries today, the slave trade is alive and well.

    It is really amazing that Christ placed a burden on the hearts of men to change the long time practice of slavery. It only took approximately 1700 plus years for any culture to reject slavery as an institution…
    It is only through Christ that there has been any abatement to the practice of slavery.

  • Don Johnson

    Yes, it was believers who were abolitionists and some of their opponents were also believers.

    Even many of the abolitionists were racist, only the most radical believed in what was called assimilation of the races. And some states had miscegenation laws until recently. All very sad.

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