Libertarians: A Deciding Factor in the 2006 Midterm Elections
There are reasons why Libertarians and those who have many libertarian leanings to be hopeful, however. While the problem of big government and government intrusion in the lives of citizens will likely get worse before it gets better with the Democrats holding one branch of government hostage for at least two years, liberty-minded voters sent the Republicans a message.
Montana, not exactly a blue state, is perhaps the state where the message was shouted the loudest. In Montana, the incumbent Senate Republican Conrad Burns was defeated by his Democrat challenger John Tester by less than 3,000 votes. The Libertarian candidate Stan Jones received 10,324 votes. The conventional wisdom is that roughly two-thirds of Libertarian vote would otherwise go to Republicans. To put it yet another way, had as much as a third of Jones’ votes gone to Burns, Burns would have retained his senate seat and the Republicans would still hold the senate!
The role of the Libertarian voter resulting in the house and senate defeats of 2006 is part of a trend of Libertarian dissatisfaction with the Republican Party over recent years. David Boaz and David Kirby released a report in October of 2006 for the CATO Institute titled “The Libertarian Vote” [pdf]. Boaz and Kirby studied voting trends from 1972 to 2004 of how Libertarians voted. The report accurately predicted that the Republicans would lose in 2006 if the trends held (apparently they did). What they found should persuade campaign strategists for both parties to actively court Libertarian voters by adopting at least part of the Libertarian agenda. If the Republicans failed to hear the message from the voters in this last midterm election, they should not miss the results of the last two presidential elections. The report found that George W. Bush received 72% of the Libertarian vote in 2000 with Al Gore receiving 20%. In 2004, Bush managed to be the preferred choice of Libertarians but by a smaller margin with 59% to John Kerry’s 38%. These same trends held true in the congressional races in those years.
The report also challenges the conventional wisdom that the Libertarian vote is insignificant compared to other voting blocs. Politicians seek out the ‘soccer moms,’ the ‘NASCAR dads,’ and the so-called ‘values voters’ but show little interest in the Libertarian vote. Gallup polls consistently show the Libertarian vote to be somewhere around 20% but Boaz and Kirby use a lower figure estimating the number to be between 9-13% or 28 million Americans of voting age (You could be a Libertarian and not even realize it. Take this quiz and find out). While this may be too small of a number to have a successful third party movement, it is a significant enough number to make a difference in elections; particularly in close elections decided by thousands or even hundreds of votes. The Libertarian voting bloc is larger than both the soccer moms and NASCAR dads combined and almost as large as the Christian Right. The remaining constituent groups are dwarfed by the Libertarian and Christian Right voting blocs.
While Libertarian voters are idealistic, most are not naive enough to believe that the Libertarian candidate will actually win in any given election of consequence. The Libertarian vote, more than anything else, is a protest vote. In this case, the protest was against the excesses of the party that claims to be the party of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and individual rights: the Republican Party. Naturally, many Republicans such as Michael Medved are angry at Libertarians for ‘throwing away their votes’ or ‘taking the votes away from Republicans’ (as if Republicans have a right to the Libertarian vote or even the conservative vote for that matter!).
The Republicans hoped they could hold on to power by default despite their leftward slide of recent years. They hoped that their we-are-not-as-bad-as-the-Democrats campaign would be enough to persuade Libertarian voters to overlook their capitulation to the Christian Right, endless assaults on personal freedom (i.e. the internet gambling ban and their push to desecrate the constitution with gay marriage and flag burning amendments), and record government discretionary spending.
The Republicans have a choice: they can be angry, ignore us, and find themselves on the losing end of future elections or they can embrace us, recommit to their principles of limited government, and find themselves back in power. The ball is in their court now, what they will do with it is completely up to them.