According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2014, eleven percent of Americans self-identify as libertarians. The study defines libertarian as “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government.” However, these libertarians do not hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues. of the PRC fascinating, disturbing and challenging.
How do we grow the Libertarian Party when the people identifying as libertarians hold beliefs that conflict with the core principles of the party platform? How do we appeal to a wide audience of self-identified libertarians with opinions that include support for affirmative action, stricter environmental regulation, and active US involvement in foreign affairs?
The answers to these questions are as varied as the people we are trying to reach.
In theory, the purpose of a political party is to give people who believe in a common set of principles a method for electing candidates who embrace those principles and desire to turn them into public policy. Many of the core principles of the Libertarian Party, exit polling indicated that the issues most relevant to the voters were best represented by the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, yet he netted only 6.52% of the popular vote. Republican Ken Cuccinelli was called the “real” libertarian candidate by both National Review and Washington Examiner and Red State blog called Sarvis a “phony libertarian.” If the electorate of Virginia truly voted their conscience, Sarvis would have collected 51.75% (or more) of the popular vote and had a decisive majority victory. But because they didn’t, Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, was the ultimate beneficiary of such thinking. Who spoiled the election for whom?
Changing that perception is daunting, but it can be done.
- The change starts locally: a city council member, a county commissioner, a township trustee. You know these people; they are your neighbors.
- The change requires involvement: school board meetings, council meetings, public forums. How many have you attended in the last six months?
- The change needs a message: ending crony capitalism, more local decisions, lowering tax burdens, creating a better business climate locally and better schools.
That last one is the toughest. Because Libertarians are principled lovers of liberty and typically our activists want to come in with the elimination of public schools, public transport, and, well, everything with the word “public” in front of it. We want legal pot for everyone, an end of the Federal Reserve system and an end to all military involvement abroad. And we want it now. Yes! Me too! But that message is not going to change the consensus that Libertarians can't win an election. Come back to me with those when we are a couple votes shy of a majority in Congress.
You, yes I'm talking to YOU - the principled lover of liberty, need to know what the biggest issue is in your community. Organize the people that agree with you regarding that issue. You can find them at the local events and on social media. Put your heads together on how to deal with that issue. Make some new friends. Then, let them know that a Libertarian candidate would be better to resolve these kinds of issues in the future. Maybe that candidate is you.
Local involvement does not require a bunch of money, but it does require time. Convincing people requires time and diplomacy. You don't need to compromise your principles; you do need to listen to what people say and fully understand their position. If you don't know enough about an issue, learn more. If you cannot fully articulate your principled message, write more. If you haven't actively participated in local politics because it seems a waste, do more.
Finally, when you meet other self-identified libertarians, or people who agree with you on most issues, stop telling them they aren't “real” Libertarians. Focus on a real problem and a real solution. Start working with them on the issues (or candidate) on which you agree. Don't mistake a kind word about a Republican candidate's libertarian idea as a turncoat's sellout to a legacy party. Pragmatic and principled are not mutually exclusive. Let's work together to make the change happen.