Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Third Party Strategies

Gary Johnson, the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party for whom I had the pleasure of voting this morning, has been pushing the idea that one should vote for him in order to get the party's total to 5%. Doing so would result in both increased visibility for his party and some legal advantages in the next election. 

If that is his objective, where should he be campaigning? The chief argument used to persuade libertarians not to vote for him is that a vote for him is a vote for Obama (according to Romney supporters) or Romney (according to Obama supporters). That makes some sense for a voter in a swing state such as Ohio, although even there the chance that one vote will determine who wins the election is probably under one in a million. But it makes no sense in California, where I live. The only way Romney is going to carry California is in a Republican landslide—in which case he won't need it.

It should therefor be easier for Gary Johnson to persuade people to vote for him in California than in Ohio, especially libertarians but also non-libertarians critical of the War on Drugs, aggressive foreign policy, continued deficit spending, or other policies supported by both of the major party candidates. If his  objective is getting as many votes as possible, he should focus his campaign on one party states—one party Republican states might be an even better bet than California, since they are likely to contain more potential supporters.

My impression from news stories is that that is not what he is doing. He is campaigning in both Colorado and Ohio, currently regarded as battleground states, and apparently polling well in both. Campaigning in Colorado might be justified by the tie-in with a ballot issue on legalized marijuana, but it is hard to see how he has any obvious advantages in Ohio.

Which suggests that, despite talk of aiming for 5%, he is really following a different approach. His chance of actually getting 5% of the popular vote is low. His odds of getting enough votes in one or more states to convince the losing party that they would have won if only those voters had voted for him are much higher—which is a reason for them to look for libertarian issues that they could support in the future. The way to maximize the chance of that happening is by focusing his efforts on states where the vote is expected to be close, such as Ohio. I suspect that is what he is doing.

After the election I may ask him.

23 Comments:

At 12:55 PM, November 06, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Texas, and voted for Gary Johnson as well. If there was any chance that Romney/Obama was close here, I would have voted for Romney to avoid the horror of more Obama selected justices.

 
At 1:41 PM, November 06, 2012, Anonymous Laird said...

I live in South Carolina, also a hard-core Republican state, and also voted for Johnson. I agree with your comment: if he actually wants to garner a meaninful number of votes it should be in the one-party states where people want to "send a message". If, on the other hand, he really is following a "spoiler" strategy, that could come back to hurt the Libertarians in a big way. If Johnson gets enough votes in, say, Ohio to tip the balance to Obama, and it costs Romney the election, that could poison the well for Libertarians everywhere for decades to come. There are plenty of people still angry with Ross Perot for throwing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, and with Ralph Nader throwing the 2000 election to GW Bush. Does Johnson (and the LP in general) really want that albatros around its neck?

 
At 2:40 PM, November 06, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

The implication of both comments so far is that libertarians, while liking Johnson, will much prefer Romney to Obama. Are Romney's actions as president really likely to be much more libertarian than Obama's?

If so, this seems to be an argument for some kind of transferable-vote electoral system.

 
At 2:45 PM, November 06, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 5:08 PM, November 06, 2012, Anonymous MikeP said...

Johnson may be following a hybrid strategy...

He will get the most media attention with this 5% campaign in battleground states because he could spoil the election for a frontrunner. That attention could lead people in decided states to choose to vote for him because they reason on their own that it won't hurt anything.

 
At 5:22 PM, November 06, 2012, Blogger Ryan said...

Maybe we should pass a law (constitutional amendment) that says a third-party candidate who does not garner enough votes to win, can assign their votes to the candidate of their choice.

Then, if they want, a third-party candidate could pledge who they would assign their votes to (assuming they are not going to be close to winning) before voting occurs. That way voters can vote for third-party candidates in a sort of quasi-protest while still knowing their votes are not going to give the election to the candidate they lest like.

 
At 7:45 PM, November 06, 2012, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

A system of voting priorities ("I vote for Johnson first, but in event of his not having a chance, Romney") if possible (I've heard one described) would seem to me better - do you really think Johnson is only drawing from people who prefer Romney? I'm concerned that declaring who the votes go to if the candidate didn't have a chance on the level of the candidate, rather than the individual vote would lead to fewer votes for the candidate, as you would essentially be voting for him and his second choice.

 
At 9:06 PM, November 06, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If he's talking about campaigning for national office... he's pretty much shown he's clueless and not worth voting for.

You want a 3rd party to get recognition? Stop trying to shout "me, me, me" and fighting above your weight class. Get out in your community, county, and state, and *show* me you have what it takes.

Until you do that, until you prove you actually want to serve the people of this country... you can languish down in the dumps with the other comedy candidates.

 
At 9:21 PM, November 06, 2012, Blogger Mark Horning said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:23 PM, November 06, 2012, Blogger Mark Horning said...

Above comment deleted because I got party affiliations wrong the first time.

At current count it looks like Johnson (whom I also voted for) will play the part of spoiler in Ohio.

It also looks like district 9 in AZ will go Dem because of the Libertarian candidate; Gammill (L) got 8 times the difference between the Democrat (Senima) and Parker (R)

 
At 11:19 PM, November 06, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

The situation in Ohio isn't clear--it depends where Johnson's votes came from. If two thirds of them were from Romney and one third from Obama, then Johnson dropping out would leave the election exactly even.

Also, it looks as though Obama didn't need Ohio to win.

 
At 8:13 AM, November 07, 2012, Anonymous js290 said...

With all due respect to Gary Johnson, getting 5% is less important now with an Establishment Republican loss. The Establishment Republicans are probably at its weakest position right now and primed for being taken over by the libertarian leaning members of the party. Duverger's Law necessitates a 2nd party in our first-past-the-post voting system, and we may be in the process of getting one.

 
At 9:48 AM, November 07, 2012, Anonymous MikeP said...

Yeah, I guess having 30 governors, the House, and losing the Presidency in swing states by 1-2% apiece just means the GOP is dead!

Romney's single biggest error was his coming out in one day reinforcing three nationalist positions: tough on China, oil independence, and unapologetic belligerence in foreign affairs. Had he not taken those stances -- stances which gain zero votes, worry moderates who otherwise want a change from Obama, and provide no distinction from Obama at all save for shrillness, which looks like irrationality -- he would be president-elect right now.

Indeed, I hope that the GOP swings libertarian and uses Paul and Johnson as examples of which way to lean. But simply shutting their mouths on nationalist positions during the general election will bring enough libertarian-leaning moderates to win.

 
At 4:24 AM, November 08, 2012, Anonymous martin said...

Laird,

If, on the other hand, he really is following a "spoiler" strategy, that could come back to hurt the Libertarians in a big way. If Johnson gets enough votes in, say, Ohio to tip the balance to Obama, and it costs Romney the election, that could poison the well for Libertarians everywhere for decades to come. There are plenty of people still angry with Ross Perot for throwing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, and with Ralph Nader throwing the 2000 election to GW Bush. Does Johnson (and the LP in general) really want that albatros around its neck?

Do you think those people would ever vote or become libertarian otherwise?

 
At 10:16 AM, November 08, 2012, Blogger Glen Whitman said...

This map could help determine whether the strategy you impute to Johnson worked: http://www.google.com/elections/ed/us/results

Looks like he drew more than average in Colorado (1.3%), but less than average in Ohio and Florida (0.9% and 0.5%, respectively).

He seems to have done best in Western non-battleground states, particularly those that are strongly Republican, like Montana and Wyoming. That would lend support to the other strategy you describe (which I advocated in a pre-election post on my blog).

 
At 2:56 PM, November 08, 2012, Blogger TheVidra said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:56 PM, November 08, 2012, Blogger TheVidra said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:56 PM, November 08, 2012, Blogger TheVidra said...

I think no strategy will work for libertarian-minded people, especially with the demographic trends going on. Women are turned off by libertarianism in general (hard economic reasoning does not appeal to emotions like populist rhetoric, the role of the alpha leader who will save the planet is missing from the equation, there is no sense of protection when everyone is left to fend for themselves etc). Blacks tend to vote Democratic even if the party nominates a Klansman, Latinos lean Democratic also. The general moral fiber in the US is changing toward a more entitlement mentality, as well as dependency on a powerful entity; the individualism that defined America is waning (at least from my experiences with the various generations I studied with and taught). As education has been made available to the masses, it has been watered down to be inclusive of everyone. Few are taught skills that enable them to think critically. As women become more involved in civic life, there will be less focus on reason and more on emotions. It's only natural. So whichever strategies Johnson or the next liberty-oriented public figures end up taking to spread the message are bound to be worthless - the era of libertarian thought has passed.

 
At 2:33 AM, November 09, 2012, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

Re: TheVidra,

I cannot tell whether you are being serious, because that sounds almost like a caricature of gender views, but... half the libertarians I know are women. I think on average, more than half my acquaintance is female. (Probably because I myself am... guess what!) I haven't noticed, either in myself or in them, any particular tendency to make choices based on emotion rather than logic; on the contrary, they seem about equal to the men I know in that regard. Some individuals better, some worse, on average about even.

If you were serious... what data do you have? If you were not... sorry for not getting the joke, but you combined it with more serious-sounding arguments, so I found it hard to tell.

 
At 3:08 AM, November 09, 2012, Blogger TheVidra said...

Rebecca, I forgot to mention the source :) http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/08/opinion/carroll-women-election/index.html?iref=allsearch

 
At 1:15 AM, November 10, 2012, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

Speaking as a woman "Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong right-maybe wrong..."

I wish they wouldn't say "Statistically a higher proportion of women than men voted for Democrats in these specific cases" and then use that as the basis for relatively unsupported assumptions about why. Did they run any correlation checks - for example, with being lower-income? (Soak-the-rich-help-the-poor rhetoric like Obama's would obviously appeal more to those who considered themselves in the latter category. I don't know if those particular variables are correlated, though I've heard it claimed.)

This is a popular article, so there's no discussion of statistical methods, so I can't check them. Given that A) they make no mention of looking for correlations, B) they're in the business of telling effective stories, and this makes a more effective story if you don't consider any other potential reason for the observed results, and C) their wording is often vague and their examples seemingly random, allowing for cherry-picking, I see no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt.

(Additional reason to be suspicious: in a race for the senate between a man and a woman, they consider the fact that the former spoke against abortion more important in explaining why the latter got more women voting for her than the fact that the latter... is a woman? Shouldn't matter, but probably will to a lot of people. And they didn't even consider the possibility.)

... and your extrapolation went far beyond even the article. They referred to collectivist vs. individualist; you referred to emotions vs. logic. If you have any proof on that specifically, I would be happy to see it, but I do not think an increased tendency to vote for democrats counts. Until then, thank you for linking me your source, but I remain thoroughly unconvinced.

 
At 9:12 AM, November 12, 2012, Blogger dWj said...

I would have thought he would at least have pressed his case harder in New Mexico, where not only are the voters' votes not relevant to the electoral college winner, but many of those voters have previously voted for him and still like him. Indeed, I wonder whether he could have made a feasible strategy of actually trying to win New Mexico's electoral votes, which would have garnered more attention than an extra percentage point of the popular vote.

 
At 5:15 PM, November 14, 2012, Anonymous Newt said...

Why couldn't Johnson even pull 5% of the vote in New Mexico, where the voters know him best, and many have already voted for him before?

Perhaps it's the association with the Libertarian Party that is hurting him.

 

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