The Libertarian dream team is coming to a town near you. Former New Mexico GOP Governor Gary Johnson and and former Massachusetts GOP Governor William Weld top the Libertarian ticket and hope to break the party out of its third party status with Democrats and Republicans represented by two of the most unpopular candidates in history.
Admittedly, Libertarian stalwarts know their ticket has no shot of winning the White House. Their hope is that by combing a fiscally conservative President with a pro-choice, pro gay-marriage, pro-gun control VP the ticket will be able to offer something to everybody. Well, everybody minus true libertarians.
With the advent of a mainstream, modern ticket the party is making a serious effort to show it can compete in American politics. But, with no shot of winning, the ticket may actually impact America in another way by throwing the election to Clinton or Trump.
Third party tickets have a long history of throwing elections to one major party. In 1912, the Bull Moose Party led by Teddy Roosevelt threw the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. In 1968, if not for George Wallace running as a segregationist Hubert Humphrey would have survived his party’s contentious Convention. More recently, in 2000, Ralph Nader arguably threw the election to Bush in Florida.
So, third party candidates swinging elections is nothing new. What is new, however, is that either way Americans may not like who benefits. Plus, there is little evidence the Libertarian ticket will swing the election left or right.
Indeed, as evidenced above by their policy positions, the ticket seems designed to appeal to everybody. Social liberals will love the pro-choice and gay marriage Weld. Conservatives should like Johnson’s opposition to spending and increasing the debt ceiling without major cuts or reforms.
There is scant polling evidence to suggest they will swing the race nationally (though there have not been many national polls of late). The most recent, a Quinnipiac survey, found Clinton leading Trump 45 percent to 41 percent but when Johnson was inserted into the mix her lead dropped to 40 percent to 38 percent with Johnson at 5 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 3 percent (she also could swing the race).
There are a couple ways you could look at the appeal of the Libertarian ticket. First, it could swing many Perot like voters in the Northeast and Southwest away from Trump. These voters tend to not vote on social issues (gay marriage and abortion) and focus on pocketbook and cultural issues. On the other hand, they tend to be pro-gun.
The other way to look at the Libertarian ticket is it’s socially liberal appeal. By picking a pro-choice and pro-gay marriage former governor as their VP the party is trying to woo urban Democrats away (on issues central to the Clinton campaign’s pitch).
For the most part, third-party candidacies tend to poll better than they actually do at the ballot box. The reason for this is simple. The most consistent voters tend to be the most partisans and true partisans don’t break ranks. But there is also another reason, self-interest.
Voters behave in their “perceived” best interests and wasting one’s vote is rarely that. In a time like 1992 when Ross Perot was running you were not necessarily wasting your vote if you cast a ballot for the eccentric Independent. This go around, you likely are.
The Libertarian ticket is unlikely to swing the Midwest however. The Midwest has been hardest hit during the economy and has proven to be the most receptive to Trump and Sander’s pro-government helping the little guy rhetoric. Johnson’s belt tightening and Weld’s socially liberal leanings probably will not mean much to these voters.
But in states like Colorado, North Carolina and Florida, where you have an event mix of partisans, Independents, rural, urban, suburban voters and diverse electorates and they could swing these contests. It’s an open question who they hurt more in these states as the ticket offers something to both everybody.
Ultimately, it would not be surprising if the Libertarian ticket swings a state or two. Nationally, there just is not enough evidence to indicate such a feat. But, in diverse, battleground states they certainly could.