Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thinking about Libertarian strategy in the General Election

It started with the whimsical post in Third Party Watch by Steve Gordon of a three-party split in the electoral college [Libertarians in the sick yellow-green, ugh]:

This led to an extremely interesting thread in Independent Political Report entitled Could Barr/Root win electoral votes?

While the Gordon map was quickly (and accurately) dismissed as fantasy, the resulting conversation then evolved into what strategy should the LP presidential nominee pursue in this election?

Commenter G. E. Smith summarized the argument:

Okay, so we have about four strategies identified here:

1. Swing State (try to be a “spoiler”)

2. Safe State (try to maximize votes by campaigning where it doesn’t matter)

3. “Winnable” Sate (focus resources in a few small or otherwise winnable states to get electoral votes)

4. Status Quo: Do what Libertarians have done thus far but, hopefully, better.

The problem is that most Libertarians, in their concentration on message and philosophical principle, forget that after somebody has been nominated, you have to work with the pragmatics of the numbers in crafting an election strategy.

Let's think about this for a moment. Here are the vote totals for the LP since 1972:

Libertarian Presidential Tickets
1972: John Hospers and Theodora Nathan
2,691 popular votes (0.003%); 1 electoral vote;

1976: Roger MacBride and David Bergland
173,011 popular votes (0.21%)

1980: Ed Clark and David Koch
921,299 popular votes (1.1%)

1984: David Bergland and James A. Lewis
228,705 popular votes (0.25%)

1988: Ron Paul and Andre Marrou
432,179 popular votes (0.47%)

1992: Andre Marrou and Nancy Lord
291,627 popular votes (0.28%)

1996: Harry Browne and Jo Jorgensen
485,798 popular votes (0.50%)

2000: Harry Browne and Art Olivier
384,431 popular votes (0.36%)

2004: Michael Badnarik and Richard Campagna
397,265 popular votes (0.34%)

The question would be, where did the Libertarian Party (especially in 2004 and 2000) pick up those not-quite 400,000 votes?

Libertarian vote (2000/2004)
Alabama 5,893/3,495
Alaska 2,626/1,675
Arkansas 2,781/2,352
Arizona 5,775 [for L. Neil Smith]/11,856
California 45,520/50,165
Colorado 12,799/7,664
Connecticut 3,484/3,367
Delaware 774/586
DC 669/502
Florida 16,415/11,996
Georgia 36,332/18,387
Hawaii 1,477/1,377
Idaho 3,488/3,844
Illinois 11,623/32,452
Indiana 15,530/18,058
Iowa 3,209/2,992
Kansas 4,525/4,013
Kentucky 2,896/2,619
Louisiana 2,951/2,781
Maine 3,074/1,965
Maryland 5,310/6,094
Massachusetts 16,366/15,022
Michigan 16,711/10,552
Minnesota 5,282/4,639
Mississippi 2,009/1,793
Missouri 7,436/9,831
Montana 7,436/1,733
Nebraska 2,245/2,041
Nevada 3,311/3,176
New Hampshire 2,757/372
New Jersey 6,312/4,514
New Mexico 2,058/2,382
New York 7,649/11,607
North Carolina 12,307/11,731
North Dakota 660/851
Ohio 13,475/14,695
Oklahoma 6,602/nr
Oregon 7,447/7,260
Pennsylvania 11,248/21,185
Rhode Island 742/907
South Carolina 4,876/3,608
South Dakota 1,662/964
Tennessee 4,284/4,866
Texas 23,160/38,787
Utah 3,616/3,375
Vermont 784/1,102
Virginia 15,198/11,032
Washington 13,135/11,995
West Virginia 1,912/1,405
Wisconsin 6,640/6,464
Wyoming 1,443/1,171
Grant Totals 384,431/397,265

I break these down state-by-state to make an important point: there are three types of States as far as the LP is concerned, which come in two flavors.

The types: Tiny (under 3,500 votes); Medium (3,501-9,999 votes); Large (10,000+).
The flavors: Consistent (vote totals in 2000/2004 similar); Fluctuating (significant changes in votes 2000/2004).

This gives us the following

Tiny (consistent): Arkansas, DC, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming
Tiny (fluctuating): Alaska, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont

Medium (consistent): Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Wisconsin
Medium (fluctuating): Alabama, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina

Large (consistent): California, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Washington
Large (fluctuating): Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia

Those large states are particularly important, because an analysis of the voting patterns indicates that the 15 largest Libertarian states account for an overwhelming percentage of our party's vote: 271,405 of 384,431 in 2000 (71%) and 275,527 of 397,265 (69%).

However, that's not the critical point. The critical point is that the fluctuations in nine of these states are so large that they indicate a significant reservoir of voters with a proven record of having chosen a Libertarian candidate in at least one of the two past presidential elections.

If we take the largest Libertarian vote total of either 2000/2004 in the large states we arrive at an important ballpark figure: the number of strong potential Libertarian voters available without having to sway a single voter who has never voted for a third party before.

Here's what you get:

Arizona 11,856
California 50,165
Colorado 12,799
Florida 16,415
Georgia 36,332
Illinois 32,452
Indiana 18,058
Massachusetts 16,366
Michigan 16,711
North Carolina 12,307
Ohio 14,695
Pennsylvania 21,185
Texas 38,787
Virginia 15,198
Washington 13,135

Grand Total: 326,421

In other words, there are over 50,000 voters in those 15 large states who sometimes vote Libertarian and sometimes don't.

When you have not broken 400,000 total votes in the last two general elections, these are the first voters you have to go after.

As a second priority, you have to look for large states in which you might significantly increase your voter turnout above previous LP totals. While I have not done a state-by-state analysis, I can suggest two states right off the bat which show potential for huge growth: Georgia and North Carolina.

Case One: Georgia. Aside from the fact that this is Bob Barr's home state, there is strong evidence that a Libertarian candidate can do extremely well in Georgia. In his 2006 campaign for Lieutenant Governor, Libertarian Allen Buckley scored 3.6% of the vote (over 75,000 votes--or twice the number of votes that any Libertarian presidential candidate received in 2000/2004). Georgia cast 3.3 million votes in 2004; 3.6% of that would total 119,000 votes. I have doubts about achieving that total, but let's assume for the sake of argument that Barr/Root along with Buckley as a strong Senatorial candidate could potentially rack up 75,000 votes. That's an increase of over 35,000 votes. Of course, this does presume that Bob Barr stops supporting Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and starts supporting the Libertarian candidate.

Case Two: North Carolina. Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Michael Munger is currently polling around 4%. The LP Presidential candidate normally does less than .5% in the Tarheel State. Let's assume that Barr/Root campaigns hard for Munger, and that Munger reciprocates (as he has indicated he will). Then let's cut the poll number in half, and give the LP Presidential ticket 2% of the vote. That's 70,000 votes--roughly 58,000 more votes than any Libertarian Presidential ticket has gotten in NC over the past two elections.

Here's my point: There are potential Libertarian votes out there, but we have to know where to look for them. Between maximizing the large fluctuating states (50,000 votes), Georgia (35,000 votes), and North Carolina (58,000 votes), we've just identified strong prospects that 143,000 new votes are within our grasp if we just target them.

It is also evident that strong Libertarian support for same-sex marriage in California and Massachusetts could attract at least another 5,000 new voters, while between them in Montana (2,000), New Jersey (2,000) New York (3,000), Oklahoma (if we get on the ballot, 6,000 votes) potentially pick up at total of 13,000 more voters from fluctuation; that's an additional 18,000 votes before we've even begun to talk about the possible strength of our foreign policy arguments, and a target total of over 550,000 votes.

None of this takes into account the increased media attention that the ticket is getting this year, or the potential McCain spoiler vote.

The question is whether the Barr campaign and Libertarians throughout the country will take a realistic, data-driven approach to winning votes.

There are least disquieting indications that they won't: for example, Wayne Root's convention statement that the campaign should concentrate significant resources in Nevada. No more than 3,300 citizens have voted Libertarian in the past two elections.

Likewise the idea that we could end up with some electoral votes is, frankly, wishful thinking at this stage of our development.

Take the list of states G. E. Smith suggested for concentration:

My strategy would be to raise cash, open offices and work hard in Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Do a lot of polling, and wherever it’s not working, get out and concentrate resources where it is working.

How many votes would we have to rack up to win any of these states? Based on 2004 vote totals, achieving over 50% in these states would require the following number of votes (with the highest vote total achieved in 2000/2004 following):

Georgia 1,654,240 votes (36,332) deficit to overcome: 1,617,908
Idaho 302,216 votes (3,844) deficit to overcome: 298,372
Nevada 418,941 votes (3,311) deficit to overcome: 415,630
New Hampshire 342,258 votes (2,757) deficit to overcome: 339,501
Maine 374,080 votes (3,074) deficit to overcome: 371,006
Montana 227,475 votes (7,436) deficit to overcome: 220,039
Wyoming 122,931 votes (1,441) deficit to overcome: 121,490

Seems a bit of a tall order.

For what it's worth (and maybe that's not much), here's the best technical strategy for the LP Presidential ticket this year:

1) Focus on the large LP states--especially the fluctuating states to turn out the maximum number of voters who have chosen the LP at least once in the past two general elections. This means turning strongly to the State Libertarian parties to help them bring out their supporters.

2) Do the crash research to identify states like Georgia and North Carolina where there is hard data to suggest a potential for tying the top of the ticket to local LP candidates with good potential.

3) Hit the messages in the Libertarian agenda that will truly resonate with significant numbers of potentially disaffected Demopublican votes in 2008. My list would be foreign policy/terrorism/Iraq (emphasizing a non-interventionist foreign policy); same-sex marriage; medical and decriminalized marijuana; and reducing taxes.

4) Study the net-based strategies used by both Howard Dean and Ron Paul to organize and fund-raise.

The objective: break 1,000,000 votes.

The only real impediment: our candidates and their Perot-era campaign manager plus Mr Direct Mail, none of whom have shown the slightest understanding of what it will take to do this.

Let's help them out, huh?


DJ said...

Excellent well thought out post.

I don't know how much previous libertarian vote totals will matter in this race. The previous numbers you could probably count as the libertarian "base" who will probably vote for the LP candidate regardless.

I think we need to go to the places that Paul did well in. We could go after Georgia being that it's Barr's home state and he's well liked there. Go a little heavier in Libertarian leaning states like Montana and Alaska. But overall for the time being at least I think we just need to do a broad national campaign. Get Bob and Wayne on as many nationally televised programs as possible. O'Reilly, Larry King, Lou Dobbs, Jon Stewart and all the rest.

After a month or so on the TV circuit we see what the poll numbers look like and go from there. I think that's the most practical way to go.

Steven H. Newton said...

The previous numbers you could probably count as the libertarian "base" who will probably vote for the LP candidate regardless.

That is part my point--those previous numbers include tens of thousands who sometimes do and sometimes don't vote Libertarian.

Assuming your base is dangerous strategy.

DJ said...

That is part my point--those previous numbers include tens of thousands who sometimes do and sometimes don't vote Libertarian.

Assuming your base is dangerous strategy.>>

I'm not saying we should take our base for granted.

But even if you say up to 50% of those who voted for Badnarik don't like Barr that's only 200,000 people. How much of your resources should you dedicate to those 200,000?

Granted there are those out there who sometimes vote Libertarian and sometimes don't, they should be gone after. But I don't really count them as the base. I'm talking about the people who always vote L no matter what.

But you are the proffesor here! I do defer to your wisdom in this arena.

Anonymous said...

Targeting getting votes, in my opinion, is a bad objective.

Recruiting volunteers and donors is the good strategy.

On the other hand, I am still looking for details on the Barr volunteer operation plans.

samadams said...

remember, you don't need 50% to win electoral votes, only a plurality. It is conceivable that on average 37% will win a state with the range being anywhere from 33 to 43 percent. Look at the numbers from 1992. The current 'horse race' polls have Barr at 6-8% with only 25% name recognition. Extrapolated, even before the campaign kicks off, puts him at near 25% once name recognition hits near 100%. That's a real ball game folks.