Political Ethics

Course Description

E34   Political Ethics: Representing the Electorate, 3 CEhours

Description:  When dealing with political ethics, we are concerned with the action of three main kinds of political actors: 1) the political candidate campaigning for office; 2) the political leader governing a political community; and 3) average citizens (like you and me).

Objectives: Some of the objectives of good political ethics are:

a) follows principles in the Sermon on the Mount
b) thinks a lot about political candidates for whom you consider voting;
c) serves on juries;
d) pays taxes;
e) obeys all laws;
f)  writes letters to government officials to express one’s viewpoints;

Welcome to this 3-contact-hour Continuing Education  course with instant online processing and certification 24/7.  Study the course below, take the 12-question multiple-choice, register and pay online. If you score 75% or above, you may print your CE certificate on your printer as soon as you finish. If you have difficulty printing your certificate, click here. You may retake the test.

Suggested Audience: People who want to understand political ethics and help others to do so. Nurses (RNs, LVNs), counselors (MFCCs), and social workers (LCSWs) seeking California state-approved continuing education (CEP 1130 and PCE 39). Employees looking for training. Educators, managers and others wanting to learn. College students who are taking this as one of the modules of their ethics course.

Course Exam

Course Outline

To deal with political ethics, you need to find the answers to these questions:

  1. What is Political Ethics?
    • 1.1 The Realm of Politics
    • 1.2 Definition
  2. What is Ethical Political Campaigning?
    • 2.1 Positive vs. Negative Campaigning
  3. What is Ethical Governing?
    • 3.1 Handling Limited Resources
    • 3.2 Handling Other Funding Questions
    • 3.3 Not Political Corruption
  4. What is Good Citizenship?
    • 4.1 Greeks’ Views
    • 4.2 Political Participation
    • 4.3 Citizen Ballot Initiatives
    • 4.4 Other Traits

Assigned Thought Questions:

1) Respond to Case 1 (in ethical campaigning section)
2) Respond to Case 2 (in ethical governing section)
3) Respond to Case 3 (in ethical governing section)



1. What Is Political Ethics?

Political ethics deals with acting ethically in politics. Like all other kinds of ethics, it has to do with good action. However, because of its unique connection to politics, political ethics also differs from all other kinds of ethics (e.g., environmental ethics, social ethics, legal ethics). To understand further what acting ethically in politics means, and why it matters, it is first useful to set forth what is unique about the realm of politics.

1.1  The Realm of Politics

When thinking about politics, we can hold that it is a realm in which:

  1. there is corruption by political office holders;
  2. there is lying by political office holders;
  3. there is violence between nations;
  4. we can debate political issues with others with whom we disagree;
  5. we can decide collectively how to use our limited resources;
  6. we can make positive changes to help others in our community.

We thus can see that some of what exists in politics is evil (e.g., corruption, lying, violence), but also that politics is something good. This is because it is a realm where we can debate, and we can make decisions about how to help people.

1.2 Definition: Political Ethics

Political ethics deals with how to act in a political realm that has evil in it, but is a  realm that allows us the opportunity to do good for others.

Further, when dealing with political ethics, we are concerned with the action of three main kinds of political actors: 1) the political candidate campaigning for office; 2) the political leader governing a political community; and 3) average citizens (like you and me)



2. What Is Ethical Political Campaigning?

2.1.   Positive vs. Negative Campaigning.

As stated, one actor in politics is the political candidate. In a representative democracy, such as the United States, she is freely elected.

One area where ethical choices and dilemmas in politics become important is during political campaigns. This is partly because a candidate may launch either positive or negative campaigns. Positive campaigns are ones where the candidate focuses primarily on her strengths as a candidate.  Negative campaigns are ones where the candidate focuses primarily on what is bad about her opponent. These negative aspects could include his record as a public office-holder, his character, and/or information about his private life. Studies show that there is much negative campaigning, yet that it can backfire and cause the candidate launching such campaigns to lose support from voters.

Case 1: Suppose that you are a candidate for political office. And suppose that you are convinced that the election of your opponent would be a disaster. This is because you disapprove of your opponent’s character and you think that if elected, he will try to implement bad policies. Also, suppose that he has been running a negative campaign against you. Additionally, suppose that it is one week before election day and the polls indicate that the race is even. Further, suppose that you know (but the voters do not know) the following:
a) He has had extramarital affairs;
b) He used cocaine in college;
c) His brother used to be a member of a racist political party;
d) His wife had been involved in illegal financial dealings a year ago.

Assigned Thought Question 1: Would you reveal any of this information to the public before election day?  Give your reasons.



3.  What Is Ethical Governing?

Government office holders are very important players in politics because they have unique decision-making powers.  What we want from them is ethical governing.  And ethical governing may be defined as acting in the interest of one’s political community

3.1  Handling Limited Resources

Deciding how to govern ethically can often be very difficult. One reason is because, as stated earlier, in politics, government leaders are working with limited resources.  To give an example of an ethical dilemma that arises because of limited resources, consider the following case:

Case 2: This year your state legislators face major budget deficits. Debate centers around how to use tax revenues in response to terrorism. Specifically, they are debating whether to use tax monies to build new emergency hospitals or to pay for more security officers. Your legislators lack the money to do both.

Assigned Thought Question 2: If you were one the legislators, Would you vote to use the tax monies to build emergency hospitals or would you vote to use the tax monies to pay for more security officers?

3.2  Handling Other Funding Questions

In the above case, most people would probably wish that there could have been enough money to build new emergency hospitals and have more security officers.  However, another case where ethical dilemmas in politics arise is when those governing have to decide whether to fund something not only that many people support but also that many people oppose.

To illustrate, consider the following case:

The president has to decide whether the federal government should fund medical research that could lead to treatments for patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, stoke and spinal-cord injury, diabetes, and muscular dystrophies, but which depends on using stem cells that come from the destruction of human embryos.  Polls show that approximately 49% of the American public think research using stem cells derived from human embryos is morally wrong.

Assigned thought Question 3: What does the ethical president do? Specify your reasons.

3.3  Not Political Corruption

Besides making decisions in the community’s interest, and in  addition to confronting ethical dilemmas such as the ones mentioned, we  can also say that ethical governing means not practicing political  corruption. Political corruption means a political actor puts himself above good laws. There are different causes of corruption. One major cause is greed.



4.  What Is Good Citizenship?

"Plato and Aristotle in The School of Athens" by Raphael 4.1 Greeks’ Views

Plato (427-347 B. C.) held that the political community would be best off if average citizens did not actively participate in politics.  In his most major work “The Republic”, he argued that when there is justice, there are three classes: Guardian, Auxiliary, and 3rd Class.  He claimed that the few members of the Guardian Class make the political decisions, the few members of the Auxiliary Class assist them, and that the many members of the 3rd Class provide for the economic needs of the community, and do not involve themselves in politics. Further, he held that average citizens comprised this 3rd Class.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) argued in his major work Politics, that average citizens in a democracy should take an active role in politics.  They should participate in political decision-making by voting and meeting in public assemblies, and sharing their views on political issues with others.

4.2 Political Participation

VoteOne main way 21st century U.S. citizens act ethically is by participating in politics.  And we can do this by voting in elections. Voting is a constitutional granted right given to everyone at least 18 years old and a citizen of the United States.  However, to vote you have to be registered, then you must register again in order to vote. Registration forms are at post offices.

4.3 Citizen Ballot Initiatives

Ballot BoxIn addition, citizens of 25 of the states, including California, also actually have the power to make laws for the state.  The process is called citizen ballot initiatives.

Citizen Ballot Initiatives – The way it works is as follows. Citizens have the power to place a proposal on an election ballot for a minimal fee. If they get enough signatures within a limited time frame, then the proposal becomes an initiative, and goes on the election ballot.

If the majority of voters on election day vote for the initiative, then it can become law. In California, for example, some initiatives that have passed and been implemented include the raising of the minimum wage, and the requiring of a fixed amount of state dollars be spent to fight water pollution. Sometimes initiatives pass but then get tied up in the courts and are not implemented. Examples of such initiatives were one denying basic health care services to people living the in the state illegally, and one allowing for the medical use of marijuana.

4.4  Other traits

Besides being voters in elections, what are other traits of good citizens?

Some examples include being one who:

  1. follows principles in the Sermon on the Mount
  2. thinks a lot about political candidates for whom you consider voting;
  3. serves on juries;
  4. pays taxes;
  5. obeys all laws;
  6. writes letters to government officials to express one’s viewpoints;
  7. protests in a rally against a government action one opposes;
  8. participates in a union.

Ethics Library


TEST 6892 in E34 in Political ETHICS for 30 CE hours course accredited by the California Board of Registered Nursing, PCE 16144:  Click here to take the 10-item test online and make payment, and to print your certificate.


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