With the 2012 presidential election expected to be close, a lot of attention is being focused on third party candidates. One candidate who has really received a lot of attention as a “spoiler” is Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Republicans appear to be so worried about Johnson that they have been accused of trying to deny him access to the ballot in some states. The perception is that voters who vote for Gary Johnson would normally instead vote for Mitt Romney and therefore split the anti-Obama vote. However, I’m not sure this is necessarily true. I’m inclined to think that a vote for a candidate is a vote for that candidate, not a vote for or against someone else.
Not every vote that Gary Johnson will receive would have necessarily gone to Mitt Romney. For instance, I know one young lady for example who is a relatively recent convert to libertarianism for whom if Gary Johnson was not in the race, would be voting for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. The main reason why is because she is more concerned about social issues than fiscal issues. She’s also sympathetic to the Occupy movement and is genuinely horrified by the Rick Santorum types in the GOP. She is not alone in that regard. Other likely Gary Johnson voters are former Obama supporters who are disillusioned by Dear Ruler’s change of heart on war and civil liberties and are therefore supporting the most high profile anti-war and pro-civil liberties candidate. Many other Gary Johnson voters are libertarian activists who would not be voting if the Libertarian Party was not fielding a candidate. I think that many Republicans are wrong when they believe that Libertarian Party voters would necessarily migrate to the GOP if it went away tomorrow.
Also, I have a problem with the belief that votes automatically belong to a certain party or candidate. In a democratic republic, it is the job of politicians and political parties to earn the votes they receive. If a bloc or group of voters are automatically assumed to belong to one political party or another, that demographic can and will be taken advantage of because they are not being competed for. Excellent examples of this are blacks in the Democratic Party and evangelical Christians in the Republican Party. The role third parties play are that they increase competition and make both major parties more responsive to more voters. They also address issues that are not addressed by the major parties. Most people who vote for third parties are voting for the third party candidates, not so much against the two major parties.
While I do think that voting for Gary Johnson or any other third party is a vote for that candidate, I personally am not inclined to make that choice for myself. Gary Johnson appears to be focused on social issues such as gay marriage and drug legalization, that I’m just not interested in on a national level. Johnson’s position on balancing the Federal budget I believe is not only realistic, but would be economically disastrous. I believe that the Fair Tax is a stupid idea to be perfectly blunt. Finally, I honestly don’t think Gary Johnson is that well-versed or knowledgeable when it comes to foreign policy.
Third parties are also not the best way to operate in the American political system. The vast majority of American political elections are “first past the post” which is the candidate that receives the most votes, wins. Any candidate who runs under the banner of a third party is truly not utilizing the American political system wisely to push for change. Given the winner take all aspect of American politics, there is no formal coalition building between political parties are there are in other countries. Instead both major political parties are coalitions in themselves. The best route for liberty activists to go is to work within the Republican Party.
My advice is still the same as it was earlier this year, vote your conscience. Vote for the guy you believe would be the best candidate for the job. Votes do not belong to any political party or candidate, they belong to you and you alone as a voter. Voters should do their research on the candidates, their records, and their platforms and give their votes to the candidate that best reflects their values and interests. However, it may not be the best way to affect political change.