Just before the election, I argued that third parties probably won’t play a big role this year. The deck appeared to be piled against them – an unpopular incumbent president and expected high voter turnout would make it difficult for them to compete and get votes from Americans dissatisfied with both major parties.
It turns out that I was half right and half wrong.
It is true that third party votes fell from 2016 to 2020, as voters who may have voted for a third party candidate in 2016 decided to vote for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
However, it turned out that in a race that depended on relatively small gaps between Biden and Trump, a third party candidate – Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen – may have helped push the tide toward Biden in several states to turn. It didn’t generate large numbers, but it didn’t have to. Their votes were close enough on the verge to indicate that some voters who leaned towards Trump (or maybe just didn’t vote for the president at all) voted for them.
Many libertarians think this is a good sign for the future. Joe Bishop-Henchman, leader of the Libertarian Party, told me: “America didn’t want Trump anymore, but Biden’s politics didn’t.”
How the libertarian party won – kind of
More people voted for Joe Biden than for any presidential candidate in American history. That win was not made simply by generating votes from Democrats (or moderate or ex-Republicans), but also from independents and the estimated 5 million voters who favored a third-party candidate in 2016.
Although the votes are still listed in a table, the number of third party votes fell sharply from 2016 to 2020 from more than 5 percent to perhaps less than 2 percent. Many of those third-party voters ultimately voted for Joe Biden: As Reason Magazine’s Matt Welch explained, Trump’s share of the vote in states like Michigan and Arizona reflected his performance in 2016, votes that went to third-party candidates like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, it seems in 2016 to have gone to Biden instead.
To be clear, we don’t know if the 2016 voters and 2020 voters are the same people – 2016 third-party voters may have stayed home in 2020, which means Joe Biden received a critical number of first-time voters.
In Wisconsin, where the gap between Biden and Trump is currently 20,557 votes, Jo Jorgensen received 38,393 votes. And in Arizona, where the gap between Biden and Trump is even closer (12,813 votes), Jorgensen received 50,636 votes – almost four times the gap between Biden and Trump.
Both states, which Trump won in 2016, went to Biden in 2020.
This is an almost exact reverse of what happened in 2016, when third-party candidates like the Greens candidate Jill Stein and the then-libertarian party candidate Johnson received thousands more votes than the final span between Trump and the then-Democratic Party candidate , Hillary Clinton. As NBC News reported the day after the 2016 election:
In Michigan – which was a must-see for Clinton but was still too short to call Wednesday morning according to NBC News forecasts – Johnson and Stein together had received just over 222,400 votes, or about 5 percent of the vote there. In contrast, Trump had a lead of just over 15,600 votes over Clinton.
In Florida, which was crucial to Trump’s victory, Johnson, Stein and two other third-party candidates collectively received over 293,000 votes – more than double the 128,000+ votes Trump led early Wednesday morning.
“Libertarians are here to stay”
Several prominent Republicans, such as former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, expressed concern about the success of the libertarian party (and arguably libertarianism itself) in this election cycle.
And the founder of Libertarians for Trump, the economist and anarcho-capitalist of Loyola University, Walter E. Block, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 8 that libertarians had “spoiled” the election, arguing that “on the libertarian- O-meter, Mr. Trump scores much better than Mr. Biden “because of his judicial nominations and his policy of deregulation. He concluded, “Excuse me while banging my head against the wall. How could libertarians in purple states be so stupid? ”
But libertarianism is not synonymous with Trumpism (or conservatism), and Jorgensen’s campaign aimed to break away from both Democratic and Republican candidates by advocating the federal decriminalization of all drugs and the deprivation of funding for the drug Enforcement Administration used, for example, to say that the United States should withdraw from NATO and the United Nations and become “one giant Switzerland”.
While some votes for Jorgensen may have come from Conservatives, it’s also possible that the Libertarian Party’s voters are just that: libertarians, an electoral cohort who may not have voted for Trump (or may not have voted at all) if no libertarians on that Would have been voting papers.
David Boaz argued at the Cato Institute: “If you ultimately ask whether Jo Jorgensen’s 1.8 million votes or, more precisely, their votes in states that were decided with narrow limits, the answer is no: If there had been No libertarian on the ballot, these voters would have been divided among Biden, Trump and non-voting, with a bias towards Biden (or perhaps “against Trump”). “
Joe Bishop-Henchman told me that Jorgensen’s campaign was aimed at “protecting freedom,” adding, “She suggested that perhaps we should be more careful about what power we’ve given up than just who we’re using . ” Regarding the increasingly broken relationship between libertarianism and main conservatism, he said, “A decade ago there were still many people who dreamed that the Republican Party would work for smaller government and more freedom, and the Tea Party -Welle used a lot of this rhetoric. Those dreams are dead now because being a Republican means being for Trump, against free trade and against immigrants. ”
And he’s optimistic about the future of the libertarian movement, especially as the country is likely to face a split government. “Surveys show that most Americans are with libertarians about free trade, open immigration, criminal justice reform, tax responsibility, ending the drug war and returning troops,” he told me. “If a Democratic President and a Republican Senate can get together on these things, great! If it doesn’t and we are stuck, we will be ready in 2022 and 2024. ”
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