Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How Should a Christian Vote? (Part II)

This post continues from where I left off in my previous post.

As noted, your voting decision becomes easy if you are in one of the States that in all likelihood will strongly favor one candidate over the other (see the color-coded map here: solid deep blue States [115 electoral votes] are expected to go for Clinton; solid dark red States [49 electoral votes] are expected to go for Trump). Whether you want to go with the flow or contrary to it, your vote will not make any difference to the outcome, so you might as well vote your conscience.

In very probably the same category are the States that are seen on the same map as either "likely Clinton" (medium blue; 54 electoral votes) or "likely Trump (medium red; 41 electoral votes). While a surge of new first-time voters, or a major development in the race, could change the predicted outcome, the results will probably not change if nothing else changes between now and November 8. So I would recommend that Christian voters in these States bide their time, and take the measure of the mood in their given State on November 7 before deciding finally how to vote. If nothing has changed by then, your decision will likely matter as little as it would have in one of the "solid" States. But if there is a change of opinion strongly in one direction or the other, your vote could become more important in proportion to the extent that the race has tightened up.

People in the so-called "battle-ground States" (see the States colored gray on this map) are expected to decide (as of this writing) the fate of no less than 140 Electoral College votes, while those in the States depicted as "leaning" one way or the other (light blue States, 103 votes; light red States, 36 votes) will determine a further 139 votes. Together, they make up more than half of the electoral college -- and this is why they are so crucial.

It is in just these States, because the margins are so close (down to single digits), that the polls are least to be trusted, for the reasons I gave in this earlier post. (Let me be precise: the polls as to these States are probably correct in showing that the race is tight. But they are likely incorrect in predicting a specific outcome that is still 14 days off.) Any new developments in the campaigns will likely have their greatest effect in these States, again because the margins of victory are already seen as so close.

The job of the Christian voter is twofold. The first aspect of it is to cast his vote, as discussed in Part I above, objectively for the best-qualified candidate, determined after a careful analysis of each in light of the abilities that this country will need in the next four years for leadership. This part of the job can be carried out now, without waiting for Election Day, because the candidates' abilities will not change between now and then. They are what they are.

The second aspect of the task is a little trickier: it is to make his or her vote, so determined, count to the greatest degree possible.

What does that mean? Consider elections (such as Florida's in 2000) which are won by just a few thousand votes, or even less. If such a result seems possible in your State this November, then both as a Christian and a citizen your duty is not just to vote yourself, but to see to it that other Christians (or secular friends with whom you see eye-to-eye politically) turn out to vote as well. This could mean volunteering to take people to the polls on Election Day, or help with candidate phone banks in the days leading up to November 8, or similar assistance in turning out the vote for your chosen candidate.

Note that I am not urging you to bring to the polls only voters who think, and who will vote (to the extent they will freely tell you) as you have decided to vote. Remember, you have no right whatsoever to ask a person to tell you how they intend to vote -- they may certainly volunteer that information, but otherwise it is strictly private.

No, what I am saying is that you should first assist your fellow Christians in going through the same careful analytical steps that you have, if they are willing to see their duty to do so, and then assist them in casting their vote to the extent they need assistance. Your duty as a Christian goes at least that far toward your fellow Christians, whether you know how they will decide or not.

Next, you may -- and should -- certainly assist any other non-Christian friends of yours, again in exactly the same manner, to they extent they are willing to receive your assistance.

And of course, you may see it as your Christian duty to join a given campaign in order to get out the vote for a particular candidate -- that, too, is certainly allowed if you have done your objective analysis beforehand. ("Objective" in this sense is a relative term that depends on the individual exercising the very best talents and skills for impartial analysis which God has given them. There will be no one "objective" answer that is the same for everyone, since not everyone has the same talents, or exercises them in the same way. God asks only of each of us that we do our very best.) 

And thus the third Christian principle comes into play, in these States where the race will be close: it can be summed up in the phrase God helps those who help themselves. Yes, this nation is under God's judgment, and yes, this election is in His hands. But Christians who are situated to make a possible difference in the outcome cannot remain passive and fulfill their obligation to serve Him as best they are able.

Now, having said all the foregoing, I want to take this analysis one step further, and show how a Christian who has objectively decided that neither of the major candidates would be a suitable leader for this country may still -- in certain key States, at least -- be able to affect the outcome of this election. To do so, however, will require a separate post, because the analysis will have to get a little technical.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Should a Christian Vote? (Part I)

We are only about two weeks from the presidential election. While I strongly believe that how any citizen votes is a private matter between them, their conscience, and (if they profess to be Christian) God, I cannot help but take note of a good deal of moral confusion concerning what Christian principles require of us in making a decision on how to exercise our freedom to vote.

The first thing I have to stress is that in the United States of America (at least), your vote is private. No one has the ability to compel you to disclose anywhere, at any time, how you voted. So if you are Christian, how you vote in this election is really a matter only between you and your faith.

That said, there is a necessary distinction between how you privately exercise your privilege to vote, and how you urge others (publicly or privately) to exercise that right.

If, for example, you choose to speak out and advocate how others should vote, then you are under a moral (Christian) obligation not to mislead or deceive. You cannot urge others to vote for Candidate A on certain grounds, and then privately vote for Candidate B on different grounds (such as that while Candidate B is less desirable, he has promised you a position in his government if he gets elected).

Thus, faced with the execrable choice we have in this presidential election, absolutely no one could fault you if you choose to vote in private for some minority candidate who has none of the moral deficiencies of the candidates advanced by the Republican or the Democratic parties. By voting in secret for the candidate whom you truly believe to be best qualified for the position, you are doing your duty as an informed citizen, and no one can blame you for doing that.

But once you take it upon yourself to advocate how others should vote in this election, you have a far greater responsibility: you must be true to the principles you espouse, even though your individual vote still by law remains secret, and cannot be disclosed for any reason. The accountability here required of you is that of Christianity itself, since even if no one else knows, God knows how you voted, in relation to how you told others to vote.

With those principles laid down, let us see how a Christian might propose to deal with the quandary of whom to vote for in the current presidential election.

Perhaps the first principle a Christian ought to apply is this: Judge not, lest ye be judged. A Christian has no business comparing himself to a candidate, and voting according to whether he considers the candidate inferior (or superior) to himself. Candidates must be evaluated on their own merits as to their abilities to lead our country; let God decide which ones are morally fit. (Needless to say, a lack of morals has not in the past operated to keep candidates from being elected President.)

The second Christian principle would be this: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Although I have said many times that this election is in God's hands, and that this country is under His judgment, that does not mean a Christian should decline to vote. It is every citizen's duty to vote. And as I just noted, citizens must exercise their vote based on criteria that evaluate the candidates according to their abilities to lead this country for the next four years -- not on whether a candidate is of a given sex, or race, or religion.

Those are the basic Christian principles that apply to voting for President in this election. But they are necessarily general; what is lacking is an application of them to specific facts and circumstances.

If, for example, you reside in a State such as I do, which is overwhelmingly predicted to go for one of the two major candidates, you have a light burden, because the State's total vote is out of your hands. You are free to vote your conscience, and leave the outcome to God's providence.

But if you are in one of the States expected to be more closely contested (and you should know by now if you are), then your vote will count for much more. You should analyze the candidates carefully, using the criteria mentioned earlier: what are the candidates' agendas? Their legislative proposals? Their proposed appointees to the Supreme Court, and to their Cabinet? How well can they be expected to deal with the Congress that is likely to be elected? Will they support a more balanced budget? How well can they be expected to deal with various foreign leaders? If an armed conflict breaks out somewhere in the world, how are they most likely to respond, and will that be good for America?

It might help you to set up a checklist of all the appropriate criteria you can think of, and then systematically and objectively rate the candidates you are considering using those criteria. I use the word "objectively" advisedly -- considerations of political correctness have no place in your decision.

That is enough for this first post. In my follow-up, I will go through more of the technical details of the Electoral College and how various State-by-State results might affect the outcome of the race -- and consequently, how Christians in certain States may choose to vote.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why the Polls Will Prove Wrong

First off -- I want to assure those who have come to this blog only recently that its customary fare is not politics. Because that topic is normally so desultory, it usually does not provide the dose of leavening which I have decided (on my own, thank you) is the measure of a good blog.

However, once every two or four years, and certainly just before a presidential election, I make an exception. As we near Election Day this November 8, more of my posts will be devoted to that rite than to the traditional topics otherwise addressed here -- such as religion, the state of the Anglican Communion, the latest outrage from the (amalgamated) Episcopal Congregations in the US of A, and so forth, and so on.

And actually, I have to say: right now, the Presidential election is a rather lively topic, because it keeps shifting with every cycle of the news.

To listen to the mainstream media, the election is already over -- Hillary has won, and it's just a matter of her adding even more States to her unstoppable haul than the number she has already bagged -- a number which (they assure the gullible) is more than sufficient to guarantee her a majority in the Electoral College.

One has to take into account, however, the sources of these claims, which are mostly the polls conducted by all the interested organizations -- from independent polling outfits to the major news media themselves.

To see what might be wrong with their data, consider this question: just how does a poll-taker obtain (and record) a voter's supposed preference for a particular candidate?

The best overall summary I have found on how polls are conducted is presented in this set of FAQs. Read it through carefully, and note the following takeaways:

1. Polls are ordered and approved by the customer, not by the voters themselves. This is perhaps the biggest source of bias: the customer gets the final say on how, and to whom, the poll questions are phrased, and those two factors determine in large part how the questions are answered.

2. Polls reach, for the most part, only those of us who still have land lines (not cell phones). This obviously leaves out most of the younger generation, for the reasons noted in this report.

3. There is no reliable method to coordinate the number of potential voters polled with the number of them who will actually vote in the election. Again, as explained in the FAQ linked above, the accuracy of any poll in this regard will depend on what questions and what survey audience the customer agreed to pay for -- and even then, there is no guarantee that someone who tells a pollster that he or she "intends to vote" will actually do so. This is why the most accurate polls historically have been based on the exit polls taken of persons leaving the polling booths -- but you will learn of those only late on Election Day, and even then they are still subject to inaccuracies, because many voters will not agree to be so polled.

4. How the pollsters decide to call numbers does not guarantee a representative sample of actual voters. This is perhaps the biggest source of error of all in published polls compared to actual election results. People contacted who disclose that they have not voted in recent elections, for example, may be excluded from the tallies because on the basis of such an answer, they are not a good fit with those who may fairly be expected to vote in this next election.

5. This election is not your "typical" election. The next election will not be any "election as usual" -- may we all please agree on that? There are, I dare say, more people now motivated (by a lack of any sense of connection, by feelings that they have previously been excluded and discounted, by mainstream media propaganda that their votes could just not matter in any case, etc.) to vote in this election, who have not felt any compunction to do so previously, than the ones whom the pollsters will manage to reach by their limited methods.

In conclusion: take the daily "poll" news with a very large grain of salt, and do not let the headlines affect your voting decisions. Note that the poll results advertised (for the reasons given above) almost certainly will not include the opinions of these people, nor (thank goodness, in this case!) of these people (who will never, you may be confident, vote in any election).

Do not, therefore, think you should not bother to vote because the mainstream media all declare this election is already in the bag for Hillary Clinton. They are trying simply to predetermine the outcome by discouraging you from thinking that your vote could, and will most likely, matter: there are, for instance, far more interesting scenarios that could play out in the weeks to come.

But those alternative scenarios are highly dependent on one thing: that YOU get out and vote. So do not become despondent, and do not let the media's barrage make you believe that your individual vote could not possibly matter: it does, and will, particularly with regard to the future of this country.

And for those among you who are still not decided just how you should vote, don't worry. The election is still 21 days away, and a lot can, and will, happen, before you have to make your choice. Your Curmudgeon is willing at this point to declare that on no account could he ever consider recommending voting for the status quo, because to contemplate such a continuation of everything as it has been thus far is, to say the least, depressing beyond measure.

At the same time, he is keeping his powder dry, because he fully expects that by the time November 8 comes around, the picture will be a lot clearer (if not improved). So say tuned, and keep praying for your country.