Why doesn't the Libertarian party do any better?

Another thread on Libertarianism! Hooray!

But I’m asking something different here. I’m not asking what libertarianism is or whether it’s a good idea. I’m just asking why the party doesn’t do any better in U.S. elections.

The fact is, whether you agree with their ideas or not, their sure seem to be alot of libertarians about. There are a good number on this board, I’ve seen some in the media, and I’ve met some in my travels. They have their own think tank (the Cato institute) and at least one magazine (Reason). Also their ideas seem like they would appeal to a lot of Americans. Gay Republicans, for a start. Also Pot smokers for small gov’t, small business owners against the anti-gay marriage amendment, and plenty of others.

So how some they flatline on election day?

Some ideas:

1.) I’m wrong and libertarians are just a tiny, very vocal, minority.

Maybe, but I’m not really asking why they don’t do as well as Republicans or Democrats. I’m wondering why they can’t do as well as Ralph Nader. Surely their are enough libertarians to get 3 or 4 percent of the vote, at least.

2.) Libertarians aren’t as stupid as the left. They’ll vote for the guy most amenable to them with a chance of winning. Ronald Reagan probably got quite a few libertarian votes. Given libertarian objections to Bush, I wonder how this will play out in this election. I haven’t seen any polls which show the libertarian party achieving even Nader’s tiny numbers this year.

3.) Libertarians are as stupid as the left and waste their time with relentless infighting. Any candidate who doesn’t meet some absolute unattainable standard of intellectual purity is rejected by angry ideologues.

4.) Libertarian’s anathema to the idea of government is so great they either don’t vote or at least don’t engage in the political process necessary to get their guy on ballots.

5.) The media just doesn’t track the libertarians or report their results. Even with our asinine media I have a hard time believing a party that could get, say, 3 percent of the vote would go completely unnoticed.

So any thoughts, guys?

BTW, this is the first thread I’ve started in GD.

So are you asking about libertarians in politics in general, or the (large L) Libertarian Party in particular? Because if you’re talking about the latter, many libertarians I’ve read deplore the current state of the organized political party bearing their name, what with their infighting and ineffectiveness.

Sorry, to clarify I was talking about the Libertarian party. Are their other third parties with similar ideologies?

The Libertarians don’t do better because they are neither Republicans nor Democrats. They are a third party. In the American political system, the deck is stacked against third parties, because of, among other things, the winner-take-all, first-past-the-post, single-member-district system. Suppose 10% or even 20% of all the voters in your home state decided to vote Libertarian in the next state legislative elections – how many Libs would get into the legislature? Almost certainly none, because there would not be enough Libertarian voters in any one district to form a majority and elect a representative. If you don’t like that, fight for proportional representation, aka full representation. You can get info about it at the site of the Center for Voting and Democracy, http://www.fairvote.org. See also a Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation.

Because its political philosophy, like political science majors study. Its an intellectual construct, like Marxism. Marxism is no worse a governmental theory than representative democracy, but has less flexibility for chaos, improvisation, and general muddling through.

Poltical philosophy has about as much to do with how people are governed as economics has to do with how they spend money.

While quite a few people think that legalized reefer and hookers would be a hoot. Eventually, however, the conversation turns to stuff like secession and whatnot. (Withdrawing '…from all international money and credit schemes, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.) That’s when many people go, “Huh? Look, I want my pot and hookers, but I also want public roads and stuff.”

That, and our system is geared for two parties.

The Libertarian party offers a radical plan to dramatically alter the status quo. As a small “l” libertarian, I do agree with a lot of the positions that party takes, but it’s just unrealistic that many Americans would take that much of a leap into the unknown. My own preference would he a gradual shift in the direction of libertarian policies, seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and making adjustments as necessary.

On many issues it is possible to consider solutions that are more libertarian in bent without completely breaking with the institutions that have been developed over the years. For example, a strict Libertarian stance would be to eliminate Social Security, but a more practical position would be to look toward a gradual privatization of that institution. You might require that a certain amount of a person’s paycheck be set aside for retirement, but let the individual decide how that money is invested. Pure Libertarianism is similar to pure Communism in that human nature will simply never allow either to be fully implemented in practice.

And besides, too many of the party faithful embrace anarchic or quasi-anarchic positions that put them in the loony fringe of political thinking. Then there are all the sci-fi geeks… just too off-putting. :slight_smile:

BTW, the Libertarian party received only .34% of the popular vote in 2000. With those types of numbers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the press pays them little attention to it.

Not in the U.S. – and what’s more, so far as I can find, there is no equivalent party anywhere in the world outside the U.S. There are some more or less libertarian-leaning parties, but no party which, like the U.S. Libertarian Party, displays a thorough, consistent libertarian, antistatist approach to all social and economic questions alike. I started a GD thread on that curious anomaly a year and a half ago: “Why is there no Libertarian Party outside the United States?” – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=189470

1.) Many if not most who call themselves libertarians are not members of the party.
2.) Yes.
3.) Yes also. One of the best-known Libertarians in the country is a syndicated talk-show host; many in the party wanted him barred from the convention becuase he differed with the platform on Iraq.
4.) Some yes; more basically, if you are fundamentally convinced that the most important work of a culture is done outside the government, you’re less likely to start going door to door…
5.) If we could pull 3%, we’d get covered.
If we could get covered, we’d pull 3%.

Thanks for the replies, guys. I’m fading a bit, so I’ll look at this tomorrow.

Believe it or not I really do know the difference between “there” and “their.” :smack: :smack:

Yes, that’s the problem . . . real Libertarians, like real Anarchists and real SubGenii, are just not joiners! :smiley: Ever hear a phrase about “herding cats”?


It is difficult for any third party to make a showing in national elections (note that Libertarians hold hundreds of local offices across the country) at least in part because of the fact that Democrat and Republican lawmakers have made sure that partaking of the electoral process is problematic for anyone but themselves.

To be sure, much of the Libertarian Party hierarchy is dominated by dweebs and crazies. But even if the top Libertarians were all sane, intelligent people, the Libertarians would face the same problem Ronald Reagan faced in 1981: namely, that the American people want a lot more from the government than they admit. Sure, they’ll stand up and cheer when an orator speaks of “smaller government,” but almost all of them (almost all of US!) receive benefits from the federal government, benefits they feel entitled to. And they’ll go on the warpath if anyone tries to shrink or eliminate such programs.

Nobody thinks of himself as a parasite feeding at the public trough, but to some extent we all are! When we hear Libertarians talk about wasteful spending, we applaud because we’re sure they don’t mean US- they mean those OTHER folks receiving perks from the government.

And think about this: a Libertarian running for Congress or the state legislature is at a huge disadvantage, because his opponent’s will campaign largely on a platform of “I’ll fight to bring federal dollars to our district!” How does a principled Libertarian respond to that? “I pledge to bring you NOTHING from the federal government”?

Pork-barrel is a zero sum game. You start with 435 Congressmen fighting for a piece of the pie. If one principled Libertarian Congressman stands up and says, “This pork-barrel is wasteful, and must be eliminated,” the other 434 will simply smile and say “Thank you! We’ll carve up what would have been your share and divide it amongst ourselves.”

In other words, right now, a lone Libertarian lgislator can’t shrink government spending- he can only ensure that his constituents never benefit from any of it.
Meaning that, until such time as the Libertarians are a majority in Congress, it makes NO sense for any one district to elect one!

Speaking of libertarian legislators, Ron Paul, Congressman from Texas, is libertarian in all but name. He is in fact a former LP candidate for president.

I’d say it’s mostly a lot of #4, since it seems kinda funny to chase after what you’re decrying, and I think most libs would be just as happy if the two parties started ripping off our ideas.

But I can’t discount #3 either. Under the blanket of “libertarianism”, you have anarcho-capitalists, constitutionalists, Objectivists (well, “the wrong ones”, according to the orthodoxy, anyway), and let’s face it, quite a few nutters. There’s not really going to be too strong a consenus, and very few of these people are going to be interested in the political process.

Canada has a Libertarian party, and I’ll bet it polls about as well as the American one.

Speaking for myself, I can’t join the Libertarian party because they are simply not practical. Electing these people isn’t just academic - they actually have to govern. Too many Libertarians spend far too much time talking about extreme ideals like privatizing police forces and the military and the roads, and far too little time talking about sensible, incremental policies that advance freedom and security.

The fact is, neither the U.S. or Canada yearn to be truly libertarian. There are large fractions of the population who, however, do favor increasing liberty and reducing the role of government in our lives. But they have families and jobs, and in the end they have to vote for sound management as well as ideological purity. The Libertarians fail miserably in the former.

That said, I will vote for the Libertarian pretty much any time I see one on the ballot, simply because the best use of my vote is to add my weight out on the farthest end of the scale. It gives politicians in the center a reading on the direction their base is moving, which can influence policy.

That, seriously, was the main reason I registered as a Libertarian. Legalized pot and hookers. I don’t buy into most of their economic philosophy though.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I’d like a packet of Acapulco Gold, please”

“Of course, sir! That’ll be $4.95, with tax, $227.83…”

Firstly I’ll disagree that libertarians cannot be found overseas.

Most euros for example, when they hear the word “liberal” think of what we call “libertarian.”

Somehow in American history the meaning of the word liberal changed. Originally liberals wanted small government across the board, government is inherently evil, an evil that must be accepted, but begrudgingly.

Eventually for whatever reason liberal in America came to be more synonymous with quasi-socialist, leftist, or “social democrat.”

So libertarian was a word developed to differentiate the “classic liberals” from the “new liberals” who were nothing like the old meaning of the word.

Some people still use the term classic liberal.

This distinction causes a lot of difficulty and confusion on forums where I post. Brits will often for example not realize when someone is talking about “liberals” they are really talking about what in the UK would be called a “socialist.”

Also I’m not sure what the Libertarian Party thinks about proportional representation (a flawed idea for America if I ever heard one) but the Cato institute comes out strongly against it, because it is felt to erode the power of the states. Something classic liberals dislike because it is felt local government is less dangerous and more responsive than national government, and erosions on its power hurt the people.

Part of the Libertarian’s problem may be that several recent statewide nominees might be considered somewhat out of the mainstream.

Two examples from 2002.

Gary Copeland was the party’s selection for California governor. Mr. Copeland was a self claimed “druid existentialist”. Whatever that is, he seems to be the only one, based upon google searches. During a radio debate that fall, Mr. Copeland called the host a racist, one thing led to another, and his microphone was turned off and he was asked to leave. Mr. Copeland then spat on the moderator.

Stan “The Smurf” Jones ran for Montana governor in 2000 and got the US Senate nod two years later. By 2002, it was clear something was very wrong with Mr. Jones. His skin was a permanent blue. In 1999, Stan was concerned about the millellium bug and thought regularly drinking a self-prepared silver solution was the proper defense to the Y2K.