With neither Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton topping 40 percent favorability ratings in the latest RealClearPolitics average, it’s clear that both major parties are in trouble. That could be good news for Libertarians.
Media outlets including Politico, The Guardian, and The Hill all feature stories today about the Libertarian Party’s prospects, as the party prepares to begin its 2016 National Convention in Orlando tomorrow. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld are expected to be nominated as the party’s respective presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Others running notably include eccentric anti-virus software mogul John McAfee, and Austin Petersen, who has worked for the Libertarian National Committee as well as Fox Business Network.
Johnson, who ran as the Libertarian candidate in 2012 and received over a million votes, or just under 1 percent of the total popular vote, has polled at around 10 percent nationally in two recent polls. While today’s coverage could be said to be due to the proximity of the convention, media interest in the party in general has appeared to be picking up steam. The Atlantic ran a story earlier this month, for example, speculating about whether this is “the Libertarian Party’s moment.”
The Libertarian National Committee reportedly raised more money in April than it has in a single month since 2004, and committee chairman Nicholas Sarwark was quoted as saying membership is “skyrocketing.” Other signs of the party’s increasing popularity include longtime GOP strategist Mary Matalin switching her party affiliation to Libertarian earlier this month.
“The unpredictable political climate that has led to the rise of insurgents or outsiders like Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has provoked upheaval in both major parties,” reports Jonathan Easley of The Hill, “leading to what Libertarian Party leaders are describing as unprecedented interest in their cause.”
Still, there are major obstacles to overcome. The Libertarian Party cannot presently claim the allegiance of a single member of Congress. While getting 10 percent of the popular vote would be a big improvement over 1 percent, it’s obviously not enough to win. The Libertarian Party appears to clearly have an opportunity here, but just what that opportunity is seems less clear.
“Did the Libertarian Party just stumble upon a viable Stop-Trump ticket?” wonders Philip Bump of the Washington Post. It has also been noted, though, that “some of the young, left-wing Bernie Sanders supporters may be attracted by Johnson’s advocacy for legalized marijuana, military non-interventionism and pro-choice stance.” Current polling doesn’t give a clear picture of which major party candidate would be most adversely affected by a Johnson-Weld ticket.
The Libertarian Party nominee is likely to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states this year, but the party faces other hurdles. Johnson is suing the Commission on Presidential Debates, which requires candidates to consistently poll at 15 percent to qualify for its debates. Polling at 10 or 11 percent, Johnson appears within reach of that threshold, but a lack of media attention compared to the major parties and the fact that polls have not as yet consistently included his name are both factors working against him.
As has been the case with previous election cycles, a Libertarian candidate may not realistically have a shot at the presidency this year, but simply getting an increased share of the popular vote could help the party’s standing. As little as 5 percent of the popular vote could hypothetically sway the election outcome, which would likely mean increased influence for the party going forward.
Committee chairman Sarwark has reportedly compared the Trump vs. Clinton contest to a football game between two teams that you hate. “We are offering the opportunity that they can both lose,” he said. “You can vote for the meteor to hit the stadium.”
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