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The 2018 election was a prime example of how powerful single issue voters can be to an election. Sure, many people weighed other major considerations, including tax breaks and abortion laws, but the overwhelming majority of talk surrounding the polarizing election had to do with laws regarding immigration and minorities in the United States. The rise and election of Donald Trump brought to light a massively polarized issue in the country, and the 2018 campaign became, ultimately, a campaign of appealing to single issue voters on two opposite sides of the aisle.
People like the black and white.
People like things to be black-and-white. It’s just easier that way: There are good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, just and unjust, and all you have to do is pick the right side to be confident in your own morality. The world doesn’t really work like that though. Questions of ethics, of necessity, of human rights, and responsibilities are all fraught with complications and unanswered questions. People tend to think they are rational beings, who base their decisions on a careful analysis of the facts and their values, but studies in psychology have proven this to be overwhelmingly false. Some of the biggest factors that lead people to make certain decisions have nothing to do with the facts of the matter or rational thought. Instead, people are heavily influenced by factors such as in-group agreement, media, friends and family, and their own history and experiences.
The way people obtain news has changed.
Though most people, of course, want to be their own person, to make decisions and hold beliefs on the basis of their own independent thought, no one lives in a vacuum. The beliefs of your family, friends, celebrities, and, most importantly, peers, play a massive role in shaping most people’s beliefs, and the emotions behind them. Especially today, in the age of social media, people increasingly draw lines around issues, wherein those on one side of the issue are good, and those on the other are pure evil. Once these associations start to form, people then choose—consciously or unconsciously—to further surround themselves with only or mostly like-minded individuals. In this setting, feelings of hatred and vitriol for the other side are rarely challenged or tempered, further deepening these beliefs and heightening emotions. Once this happens, what would otherwise be an important political issue quickly becomes a deeply personal one, tied up with feelings of morality, self-esteem, and other passions.
This is one of the most significant ways that people become single issue voters, because these echo-chambers of belief and the heightened emotion that comes with them do not happen for all issues. Especially with the recent trends of social media blurbs that boil complex issues down to short, black-and-white statements, single issues tend to take the spotlight and proliferate amongst like-minded groups at rapid speeds. This bombardment of information causes problems between social media and politics, and leads people to view these issues as the most important among all the issues a person can sift through, and to tie the aforementioned emotions even more deeply in with them.
The visibility of major issues in the current age means that many people will begin to see alternatives or challenges to their view as absolutely unacceptable. At that point, that issue gains a new power. Voters become inclined to vote for a candidate who they would otherwise disagree with on many issues, simply because they cannot stomach the possibility of voting against their belief on that issue, which they now hold to be of the utmost importance.
Certain issues incite extreme emotions in people.
It’s important to note what kinds of issues tend to create single issue voters. It’s very rare for people to have strong emotions, and begin the kinds of campaigns that lead to this phenomenon, for issues that they don’t see as having a significant moral aspect. While emotions can certainly be high, and beliefs strong, regarding such things as taxes and road maintenance, the issues that really spark passion in people, and create single issue voters, tend to be strongly linked to human life and rights. Pro-life advocates, for example, are passionate regarding their belief that a fetus is a human life. Pro-choice advocates become equally passionate regarding a woman’s right to self-determination. If people take a step back and look at each of these issues objectively though, they could realize they are both asking the same question: Is abortion morally right? Other issues follow similar patterns, such as the right to free healthcare versus the right to choose your own healthcare, the right of foreign individuals to pursue a life in this country, and the loss of lives due to a lack of gun control in the United States. The unpopular opinions surrounding illegal immigration have already been stated, but require an informed moral compass one way or another. Because of the humanitarian nature of these issues, their effect on people’s ability to live and to pursue a quality of life, they incite the kinds of black-and-white thinking and emotions that create barriers between differing sides. As a result, we see strong moral claims surrounding these issues, in the media, social media, and daily conversation. These claims, with their moral implications, can have the dangerous effect of discouraging discourse in the form of disagreement, doubt, and argument, and instead incline people to view the issue as a matter of simple right and wrong, not even deserving of discussion. Of course, the fact that it’s such a heated political issue at all provides good evidence that it is an issue requiring careful analysis and consideration of differing viewpoints and sides. Again, people love the black-and-white, and single issue voting has the tendency to satisfy people’s sense of civic duty, without requiring them to take the time to form a well-rounded, well-informed view of a political candidate or party overall.
None of this is to say that there is anything wrong with being particularly passionate about certain issues, or to place more importance on them than on other issues. However, single issue voters can be dangerous, as voting will not be based off all the information available to people, and will become ever less in-depth as a result. Furthermore, it opens doors for candidates that may ultimately be very harmful for the country overall, as the set of factors that go into these elections diminishes. So, while passion and emotion have an important role in society and politics, and certain issues simply are more important than others, it’s important to recognize the factors that guide our political outlooks, beliefs, and decisions, and do our collective duty as citizens to be as well-informed as we can, on all important issues—not just the ones our friends are talking about on Twitter this week.