Libertarian Party is third choice in US polls; any takers?

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: May 31, 2016 22:29 IST
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson gives acceptance speech during National Convention held at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. (Reuters)

Americans leery of the two leading candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump and Democratic Hillary Clinton, have a choice now apparently. But are there any takers?

The Libertarian Party nominated former governors Gary Johnson and William Weld its presidential and vice-presidential candidates in a close contest on Sunday.

“This is a national ticket," Weld said after he was declared victorious. “We can offer something meaningful and realistic to the country.” And an alternative, he might as well have added.

Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, has polled in double digits in simulated three-way match-ups with Trump and Clinton — finishing with 11% in a Monmouth University poll.

Nicholas Sarwark, chair of the Libertarian National Committee, has said polls show there is a “likelihood the Libertarian Party will have a sizable influence in the 2016 election”.

Both Trump and Clinton suffer record high un-favourability ratings at around 57%, which has left the race, and situation, ripe for wild-card independents or third-party challengers.

Can the Libertarian Party, which calls itself America’s third largest , offer itself as that alternative? And if it does, will it find takers; finally, 45 years since its founding in 1971?

Libertarian Party candidate Vermin Supreme (L), wears his signature boot, with supporters at the National Convention held at the Rosen Center in Orlando, Florida on Sunday. (REUTERS)

“I really doubt it,” said Chris Bedford, a senior editor at conservative-leaning The Daily Caller. “They are an alternative to the major two, but one that is historically inefficient, tribal, and against all of the types of structures necessary to move a party off the ground.”

The Libertarian Party has fielded candidates in every presidential election since its founding, who never left much of a mark — they managed to win more than 1% of votes just once.

This is Johnson’s second shot at the White House. He ran first in 2012, against President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and finished a distant third by miles with just 0.99% of votes polled.

The party advocates small government, low taxes, less market regulation (party website calls it “hassle”) and an isolationist foreign policy that seeks to end foreign interventions.

Before this presidential election cycle, it had found little traction with voters and the media. But news reports and party officials say 2016 has been vastly different.

A Libertarian delegate, far right, poses for a photo with comic charters attending a Megacon Convention next door to the National Libertarian Party Convention on Friday in Orlando, Florida. Many of the Libertarian delegates and Megacon attendees were sharing the same hotel near the Orange County Convention Centre. (AP)

The party’s average new membership has surged from 100 for most of 2015 to 148 in January, to 323 in February, 546 in March, 706 in April, and 1,292 in the first three weeks of May.

Party officials have attributed the surge to Senator Rand Paul, a Republican with strong Libertarian views, dropping out of the White House race and Trump’s gravity-defying rise.

Many Republicans and conservatives remain worried about Trump, who is now the nominee, having secured the requisite number of delegates, and continue to look for alternatives.

On the Democratic side, Clinton’s un-favourability ratings continue to be a major reason for Bernie Sanders, her only rival, to stay in the race despite an evaporating path to nomination.

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