Written by Adam Dick…
The media is not waiting until after the November general election to blame Libertarian Party candidates for Republican Party candidates’ upcoming losses. Indeed, Libertarian candidates are already being blamed for the Republicans’ potential failure to gain a majority in of the United States Senate. The Washington Post on Sunday published an article suggesting that Libertarian candidates could “spoil” Republicans’ chances of winning United States Senate races in eleven or more states, as well as some governor races.
Following an Associated Press article last month that erroneously suggested Libertarian governor candidate Ed Thompson caused the Republican incumbent Wisconsin governor to lose to the Democrat challenger in 2002, the Washington Post article points to Republican losses in the Virginia 2013 governor race and the 2006 and 2012 Montana US Senate races to support the assertion that Libertarian candidates are spoilers for Republicans.
What proof does the Washington Post article offer to advance this empirical argument? The Libertarian candidate received more votes than the number of votes by which the Democrat beat the Republican in each of those three races. That’s it — an underwhelming “argument” to say the least. The article seems to trust that readers believe the baseless, though widely repeated, characterization of libertarianism as a subset of conservatism.
Of course, not every person who voted for the Libertarian candidates in the Virginia and Montana races would have voted for the Republican in the respective races had there been no Libertarian option. The Washington Post does not give reason to suppose that even a majority of the Libertarian candidate supporters would have done so. Some of these voters would have voted for the Republican and others for the Democrat. A significant number may have chosen not to vote at all on election day or to vote on other matters on the ballot but not in the particular race.
Even an individual who votes for a Libertarian candidate and views the Republican in the race as the second-best option may not be counted on as a voter for the Republican if the favored candidate were not in the race. For some people, a candidate being marginally better is not good enough. If there is no candidate that meets a certain threshold, then no candidate will earn the vote.
Other voters who like a Libertarian or other “third party” candidate the most may nonetheless vote for the Republican or Democrat candidate who the voters determine is “good enough.” In these cases, voters choose to forego making a statement about who the best candidate is in order to try to play a part in deciding which candidate will win the immediate race or to send a message to the “major parties” regarding what kind of candidate can earn their votes.
Another group of voters will always or almost always choose a Republican or Democrat, viewing making any other choice as a “wasted vote.”
On the other end of the spectrum, other people will only show up at an election if there is a rare candidate who inspires them and then only vote for that candidate, leaving other races with blank or write-in votes.
The fundamental issue is that third party candidates, be they Libertarians, Greens, or whatever, are not stealing votes from Republican or Democrat candidates. The votes were never the property of one party or candidate to begin with. Votes, like cash, may be spent however a person subjectively determines is best. Excepting instances of illegal election tampering, success in elections depends on marketing a product people are willing to choose over other available choices.
My recent article “A Tipping Point For Liberty Against Leviathan” explores some issues that are likely to be important for many voters in the November elections:
Additionally, politicians should take heed of the apparent movement of public opinion in the US toward supporting a non-interventionist foreign policy and fearing big government. Indeed, last year public opposition helped prevent a US government attack on Syria and helped encourage the US House to nearly pass an amendment to significantly undercut the NSA’s mass spying. This happened despite the Obama Administration and bipartisan congressional leadership lining up on the opposing side in both instances.
Maybe, if some “third party” campaigns do better in the November elections than in past years, it will be because some voters see these campaigns as resonating with this movement in public opinion. If that is the case, “major party” candidates could better spend their time learning from their competitors’ success than blaming them.