By H. Harrison Coleman IV
“The moral man does something, and when no one responds, he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.”
- Laozi, Tao Te Ching
The Libertarian Party is the third largest political party in the U.S. However, the Libertarians have consistently failed to win elections. That begs the question: why are the Libertarians so unsuccessful?
The Libertarians are a party dedicated to personal freedoms, small government and laissez-faire capitalism. With such a platform, one would expect more popularity from the Libertarian Party. However, Libertarian candidates rarely enjoy any success.
No Libertarian has ever been elected to the House or Senate. The only Libertarian to ever serve in Congress is Representative Justin Amash (L-MI), and he only switched to the Libertarian Party while in office; he was elected as a Republican.
There are currently no Libertarians at all in state legislatures. Of the 7,383 senators and representatives currently in state legislatures, absolutely none are Libertarians. Why is this?
Perhaps it’s because Libertarians have an unpopular platform. One of the loudest Libertarian battle cries has been “Abolish the IRS!”. Despite being the butt of many jokes, the IRS is a relatively popular federal agency, standing at a 65% favorability rating, as per a Pew Research study held this year. The same can be said for another of the Libertarian’s favorite federal punching bags: the Federal Reserve, which enjoys a 77% favorability rating, according to the same Pew Research study.
The Libertarians do have a smattering of popular policies, such as cannabis legalization. However, few campaigns find success off of one policy alone, and the Libertarians have enough unpopular policies—such as their rabid, unpopular gun control platform—to make them untouchable in the eyes of most voters.
The 2020 Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, Jo Jorgensen, pledged to keep the government out of the field when it comes to environmental regulations. This position is, again, unpopular—a two- thirds majority of Americans want the government to do more, not less, when it comes to climate change and other environmental issues. In a 2019 Pew Research study, 67% of Americans felt the government did too little to protect air and water quality and reduce the effects of climate change.
There is also a disturbing lack of democracy within the Libertarian Party. Take the 2020 Libertarian primary elections: Jorgensen lost the popular vote to Jacob Hornberger, a Virginian attorney who ran on a platform of abolishing Medicare (another popular government service). Jorgensen beat out Hornberger only because the Party Committee selected her; the Libertarian primary votes are non-binding. How can a candidate who cannot even be voted for by her own party be elected by the American people? Say what you will about the Democrats or the Republicans, but something like that would never happen during their respective primaries.
The Libertarians also have an image problem. Hornberger won first place in the primary, and Jorgensen won second, but in third place, trailing Jorgensen by a mere 900 votes, was a candidate known as Vermin Supreme. Supreme is most well known for wearing a boot on his head and running on a platform of giving every American a free pony, amongst others. The fact that a candidate like Vermin Supreme could get any significant amount of votes speaks volumes to the seriousness, perceived or real, of the Libertarian party.
This is not to blame the Libertarians for all their electoral woes—the two party system in the United States is built in a way that smaller, third parties cannot win in most elections.
The Winner Take All style of American elections lends itself to favor only two parties, as opposed to other nations with other styles of representation. In nations like New Zealand and Germany, a system of proportional representation is used, wherein people give their votes to political parties, which are given seats in their legislatures based on the percentage of votes they receive, and fill them accordingly.
So if a certain party received 5% of the vote, they would receive 5% of the seats available. Systems like this allow minority parties to have a say in the governance of a nation, and a system like this in the US would undoubtedly help the Libertarians, along with other minor parties. In the New Zealand election held this year, the libertarian-esque ACT party won 10 seats in the parliament—1/12 of all seats available using this proportional method.
Another system of voting that would help Libertarians is Ranked-Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). In this system, voters rank the candidates on their ballot, and should any candidate fail to win an outright majority of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated, and their votes ceded to whomever the voter’s second choices were, repeating until one candidate wins an outright majority.
This system, unlike proportional election, has footing in the US, with Maine using this system to decide all statewide elections—including the 2020 presidential race. Alaska, additionally, has voted to implement this system in all future elections. Libertarians, along with many other smaller parties, have hailed IRV as the future of American elections.
Another 2020 Libertarian candidate with a ridiculous platform was Marylander Spike Cohen, who ended up being Jorgensen’s running mate on the 2020 presidential ticket. Cohen, a close ally of Vermin Supreme, also ran on a platform of free ponies, but included making tooth brushing mandatory and “killing baby Hitler” in his platform.
Whether or not he ran a serious or flippant campaign, Cohen ended up on every ballot in the nation, as Libertarian presidential candidates cannot select their own running mate; the Party Committee assigns them one. Having a candidate so absurd on the ballot undoubtedly hurt the Libertarian ticket––and its reputation.
Despite all this, the Libertarian Party experienced some victories in the 2020 general election. Marshall Burt will become a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives on January 12, 2021––the first Libertarian elected to a state legislature since 2000. Additionally, many Libertarian ideals were victorious, as four states voted through ballot measures to legalize cannabis for recreational use, a Libertarian policy that enjoys significant public popularity. The future remains uncertain for the Libertarians, but not bleak.