My Facebook and Twitter are afire with libertarian tweets and posts. I write quippy facts and long anecdotes about why classical liberalism is the best political philosophy available. A lot of the time I end up circlejerking, but the central idea is to hopefully engage people in debate, and maybe, just maybe, change their minds to vote for libertarian candidates and adopt libertarian ideas.
This is not a winning strategy. Reaching out to people is great, but presenting the ideas as “libertarian” is isolating.
Over the past quarter, I have focused a lot of my graduate studies on public opinion. What is public opinion? How is it formed? How can it be changed? Ultimately, I tend to buy into the Stimson model. He argues that there are three categories of people who change American politics: the passionates, the scorekeepers, and the uninvolved. The passionates tend to be ideologues and pay close attention to politics, whereas scorekeepers are “nonideological pragmatists” who choose candidates based off of who they think will do a better job. The uninvolved tend to vote party line if they vote at all. The passionates and the uninvolved are not worth our time.
What remains are the scorekeepers, the people who (mostly) vote based on the economy. They do not have the incentives to learn an entirely different paradigm from democrat/republican. Remember, American voters tend to vote for their parents’ parties, if they vote at all, and they do not vote ideologically. In fact, quantitative data shows that voting is fairly random and very uninformed, evening out party votes (Zaller and Converse are the most famous advocates for this view). Because of this, libertarians should work within the existing system, the system that the public is always aware of, instead of trying to break it with 1%, or even 5%, of the vote. The kind of paradigm shift that libertarians are hoping for is not going to come from a third party.
It is time to stop wasting our resources on the Libertarian party.
The LP has brought us a number of quality candidates—I, personally, really like Gary Johnson—but the fact is that if the liberty movement wants to take itself seriously, it has to swallow its pride, and work on transforming the Republican Party. The Libertarian Party is built for the passionates—it’s a party for ideologues—but it will never take hold of the public because the public is not ready for real change.
Before you scoff at the idea of working within the Republican Party, consider the liberty-minded people who have been able to hold office and effectuate change because they were able to garner votes from the republican label heuristic (meaning people wanted to vote for a republican, not knowing their actual policies). Think (most famously) about how far Ron Paul has been able to push the liberty movement from within the Republican Party. Think about Justin Amash, Rand Paul, and Gary Johnson as governor. We are moving forward!
The problem about moving within the Republican Party is that, a lot of the time, libertarian republican candidates are willing to compromise their pursuit of liberty in lieu of appeasing the party itself. Ted Cruz opposes gay marriage. Roscoe Bartlett encourages subsidies to make homeowners go green. Gary Herbert wants to expand the public education system in Utah. The problem of working within the Republican Party is that our good guys can be morphed into traditional Republicans. We cannot let this happen.
It is time to think critically about how public opinion works and be strategic about the liberty movement’s approach to changing US politics. The Libertarian Party is not working, and it will not get votes in the future (no, not even if Gary Johnson runs again in 2016). It is time to stop splitting libertarian strategy: reform the Republican Party and stay true to our principles of freedom and liberty.