Do you feel like you can't vote for anyone?

A polling station at a church in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

It's so easy to imagine, sadly. Picture the scene: polling day comes round. You feel disillusioned with the voting options put in front of you. Your eyes scan the different candidates; none of them stand out at you, whether for reasons of principle, or party allegiance, or even the character of the candidates on your ballot paper. You know that you ought to vote; you even want to vote, to exercise your democratic right. But the options are just so bad.

We do not expect to agree with everything that a party stands for; no candidate will exactly replicate the values which we hold. But sometimes the differences just feel insurmountable.

Maybe you're a traditional Conservative voter, but you are so frustrated with how they've performed while in office that you don't feel like can support them anymore, and you're worried about what a Labour government might do. Or maybe you're a Labour supporter when it comes to the economy and to inequality, but you're afraid that electing them will unleash a storm of liberalisation when it comes to some of the social issues that matter most to you.

Or maybe – and we saw this with some Labour supporters in the Rochdale by-election earlier in the year, which resulted in the victory of George Galloway – even if your party has a candidate, you do not feel like you can support them to be your representative, due to things they have said, or beliefs which they hold.

What ought we to do as Christians in such circumstances? Are there right and wrong courses of action?

Christians will take different views in response to these questions, but here are three possible routes we might take if we're struggling to work out who we might vote for.

1. Vote for the least bad option

The Bible teaches that the role of government is not just to promote what is good, it is also to restrain what is evil (1 Peter 2:13-14).

Sometimes it might feel a little bit like our vote is like that; we may not be overly enthused by the 'big vision' which any of the parties are putting forward (in this election, for instance, it might feel like the Conservatives' big sales-pitch is 'We're not Labour', and Labour's is 'We're not the Tories'!).

But even if we do not feel like one party or another is going to achieve vast amounts of good, we still have a responsibility to look to restrain evil. Have you considered for example, whether one party might change legislation around life issues? Or whether life under another party is going to be particularly hard for some of the most vulnerable within society, such as the poor or the foreigner?

Ultimately, not voting influences the outcome, just as voting does; let's think not just about what one government might do, but about what an alternative government might not do.

2. Vote for a candidate you believe in, even though they won't win

Sometimes we may not feel like we can vote for a candidate from one of the major parties; but we might still feel like we can vote for a candidate from a minor party, or who is standing as independent, even though we feel like they are unlikely to win.

This is a situation I myself was in in 2019, when, although leaning to the right politically, I didn't feel like I personally could vote in good conscience for the Conservatives while they were led by Boris Johnson (although I fully recognise that other Christians could). Instead, I ended up voting Independent for the sitting MP who had lost the Conservative Party whip and who had been ejected from the party, even though he was likely to lose.

Other Christians might choose to vote for a minor party – such as a party with an explicitly Christian candidate – which more closely represents their own views, as we've written about here. Often at the root of this approach is a desire to not go against our conscience, being mindful that we believe in a God to whom we will have to give account for our actions (Romans 14:12).

As Christians we have all been blessed with different consciences; there are matters where it is legitimate for us to disagree, or to take different approaches. But it is important for each of us to not go against our conscience (cf. Romans 14:23: "everything that does not come from faith is sin").

One question which this does raise is whether there is ever such a thing as a wasted vote (ie. if you know that the candidate you vote for has no chance of being elected). But regardless of whether or not the candidate you vote for was elected or not, the vote will still be counted, and in some modest way, your voice will still be heard.

Indeed, sometimes voting for a party which isn't likely to win can shape the debate more than voting for a candidate who does win (this was seen a few years ago in the European Elections when the Brexit Party over-performed their predictions, dragging the Conservative Party to the right).

3. Spoil your ballot

Maybe you feel like although you could vote for a candidate from a minor party, you would rather send a message by spoiling your ballot, that is, by disobeying the rules around putting a cross in one particular box (such as by putting personal identifiable information, or, as a protest, writing a political message on your voting card).

Indeed, if you are looking to not vote for any party at all, spoiling a ballot is a way of at least having your voice heard (and registered on record), as opposed to staying away completely, particularly given that spoiling a ballot has long been recognised as a protest tactic.

One word of caution about this approach, however: spoiling a ballot does not capture anything more than that the vote is invalid. It does not capture why you have protested, or quite what you are protesting against (or even whether you are protesting at all, given some spoilt ballots just refer to people filling out their form incorrectly).

Although I would advocate for this rather than staying away from the ballot box completely, my own personal conviction would be that it is better to vote for a candidate who is unlikely to win than it is to vote for no one at all. We want to be for things, not just against them.

Christians will – as in so many matters – take different approaches when they feel like they don't want to vote for anyone. There aren't necessarily right or wrong answers, and the outcome can be so decided by what constituency you live in (and whether there is a candidate who you can get behind there, regardless of the party they represent).

Ultimately, if we are looking to steward our votes wisely, looking to promote good and restrain evil, and not going against our conscience, we won't go too far wrong.

Find a range of resources to help you think, act, and pray before you cast your vote at CARE's dedicated election website: engaGE24

Peter Ladd has is head of content at CARE.