Thursday, November 8, 2012

Some very important lessons for future Libertarian presidential campaigns

While I am thrilled that Governor Gary Johnson and Judge Jim Gray broke the 1 million vote ceiling, the reality is that several million votes were cast nationwide for Libertarian candidates, votes cast by people who did NOT also vote for the team at the top of the ticket.

Let's compare the Johnson/Gray vote to Senatorial or Gubernatorial votes:

John Jay Myers for US Senate 161,462
Gary Johnson for President 88,110

M. Victor for US Senate 76,679
Gary Johnson for President 23,209

D. Cox for US Senate 31,287
R. Vandevender for Governor 17,729
Gary Johnson for President 13,923

K, Larsen for Governor 19,956
Gary Johnson for President 11,071

North Carolina
B. Howe for Governor 95,154
Gary Johnson for President 44,798

J. Dine for US Senate 164,991
J. Higgins for Governor 73,196
Gary Johnson for President 43,029

J. Kexel for US Senate 61,998
Gary Johnson for President 20,279

Andrew Horning for US Senate 156,443
Gary Johnson for President 49,833

R. Smith for US Senate 94,362
Gary Johnson for President 48,758

New York
C. Edes for US Senate 27,956
Gary Johnson for President 42,424

P. Passarelli for US Senate 24,658
Gary Johnson for President 12,517

D. Ahmad for US Senate 24,395
Gary Johnson for President 27,729

NOTE:  Bob Johnston just gave me corrected figures here.  That's the problem, the figures on national sites vary widely:  Ahmad DID beat GJ 29,490 to 27,318.  But that actually reinforces my point.

New Hampshire
J. Babiarz for Governor 19,868
Gary Johnson for President 8,319

Scotty Boman for US Senate 87,773
Gary Johnson for President Not on ballot [and I'm leaving Michigan out of the stats below]

So in only two states--firmly BLUE states [New York and Maryland, where Obama got 58-60%]--did Gary Johnson do better than the local statewide candidates.

Everywhere else he did substantially worse.  Taking the top Libertarian vote-getter in each of these states and comparing the totals to Gary Johnson's totals, even with leaving NY and MD in the mix, we get the following

Libertarian statewide candidates:  959,209*
Libertarian presidential candidate:  433,999 (45.24%)

*If you add in Scotty Boman, fourteen Libertarian statewide candidates combined to equal or perhaps slightly exceed the Gary Johnson national total.  Think about that again:  there were MORE Libertarian votes cast in just fourteen states than Gary Johnson received nationwide.

This does not happen to Dem and GOPer presidential candidates.  Their respective vote totals are almost always far more reflective of the votes received by statewide candidates.  Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less, but always within the same order of magnitude.

Why did this happen to Gary Johnson?

Several reasons:

1.  The nature of campaigning and campaign events:  big Demopublican events draw thousands of people and inevitably the national and statewide candidates are on stage together.  The national and statewide candidates both appear constantly in the news, and are linked by common perceptions of their parties and policies.  While Libertarian statewide candidates do not benefit from such largess in even their local media, they are present in the state and get some exposure.  Beyond hard-core Libertarian circles, however, Gary Johnson and Jim Gray pretty much received minimal local and statewide press except possibly when they actually visited for campaign events.

2.  Local Libertarian Parties are far more committed to their own candidates than to the Presidential ticket.  This makes sense:  the Gary Johnson campaign was the first national campaign that seriously tried to connect with the statewide campaigns.  No resources flow down to the states from national (thanks, Wayne Allyn Root, for the travesty that was the Libertarian Congressional Committee), and in many cases the national candidate (hello Bob Barr) can be either an embarrassment or a liability or both.

3.  The lower the level of the office, the more willing people are to risk their vote on a third party.  I will use Delaware as an example.  By and large our statewide candidates did better than Gary Johnson (even though he nearly doubled the prior Libertarian presidential total).  By the same token our General Assembly candidates did better than their statewide peers (we had a Senate candidate with 7.6% of the vote and a Representative candidate with 10.8%--none of our statewide candidates got above 2.1%).  And we did even better at offices like Clerk of the Peace.  I don't think this is completely a "wasted vote" issue; I think it is a general public perception that candidates who did not "work their way up" through the system are less likely to win support.  In Delaware we had an independent US Senate candidate invest over $140,000 in his own campaign for a measly 3.6% of the vote.

4.  The data also suggests that voters are more willing to trust (and therefore vote for) Libertarian candidates at legislator rather than executives.  In a way, putting Gary Johnson's resume aside (which is unique in Libertarian annals), this makes sense.  We field very few candidates who possess the kind of executive experience that would make people believe they'd successfully run the government if they won.  On the other hand, people appear to be far more willing to support a philosophically based candidate for a legislative position.

What does this mean to a future Libertarian Presidential campaign (or, for that matter, to the state parties)?

For the Presidential campaign:

1.  You need the local organizations far more than they need you, and you'd best remember that.  Too often the LNC doesn't.  Gary Johnson's campaign spent considerable time endorsing candidates around the country, but what they really need turns out to be local and statewide candidates talking about the Presidential candidate and not vice versa.  Here's an example of what could have been done:  instead of printing all those Gary Johnson/Jim Gray fliers and posters, how much difference might it have made if in Texas there had been Gary Johnson/John Jay Myers posters or in North Carolina there had been Gary Johnson/Barbara Howe posters, all paid for by the national campaign?  Give the locals a reason to tie themselves to the presidential campaign.  (Please note:  this is advice, not criticism.  I worked with the campaign for months and never realized that this was the case until it was over.)

2.  Tying to local candidates in other ways is a powerful strategy.  For example, in Michigan and in Delaware the statewide Libertarian candidates were excluded from critical debates by local news organizations.  (I'm certain there were others, but these were the two I was following closely.)  Gary Johnson YouTube videos or Gary Johnson press releases ("Let Scotty Boman debate") would have gotten the local candidates much more publicity (and therefore Gary Johnson as well) than they could drum up on their own.  It also gives the local candidates more reason to mention the Presidential candidate frequently.

3.  Focus on the states where there are Libertarian US Senate (and to a lesser extent Gubernatorial) candidates.  We had a lot of discussion on campaign calls about where the campaign would expend its resources, and almost all of that discussion focused on where Gary Johnson could have an impact on the national race.  New Mexico because of the favorite son advantage, Colorado because of marijuana legalization, etc. etc.  But the reality is that where there are US Senate and Gubernatorial candidates there are generally more people voting for at least one Libertarian candidate.  I say again:  in just fourteen states there were more Libertarian votes cast than Gary Johnson got in fifty states.  In 2016 if we really want to hit 5%, we have to pursue the states where the votes are, and not so much the states that will impact the presidential election.

4.  There has to be a Libertarian ticket.  This should not be brain surgery.  The Dem and GOPers do this all the time, printing up material that emphasizes their entire slate of offerings.  You can't just focus on "vote Gary Johnson," you have to focus on "vote Libertarian."  To do that, there have to be Libertarians running for office.  We founder in part because each Libertarian candidate has to teach the voters, all alone, what the Libertarian philosophy is.  Yes, I know we don't always agree among ourselves, but for election purposes there has to be some unity.

For the State parties:

1.  If faced with a choice of which races in which you can field candidates, generally prefer legislative over executive positions.  Run for Senator, not Governor, City Council, not Mayor if there are not enough candidates to go around.  (Or at least make the executive positions your "paper" candidates and save your best campaigners for the legislative positions.)

2.  Consider having your strongest candidates run for lower-level offices.  As Libertarians we often get far too focused on national issues.  I've seen people running for state legislatures prominently featuring the need to repeal Obamacare on their websites.  Except . . . state legislatures will not be repealing Obamacare.  We want to talk about ending the wars and getting rid of NDAA, which is something that US Senate and House candidates can discuss, but others not so much.  Yet there are Libertarian analogs to these issues everywhere.  Does the local police department want to get drones?  Is the General Assembly trying to set up its own single-payer health care system (it's doing that in Delaware)?  Are there a lot of disabled veterans in your district as the result of these wars who are not receiving treatment?  Are your public schools being forced to roll over for the Federal government?  There are plenty of winning Libertarian issues at the local level, and increased willingness of people to listen to you there.  People have a much lower threshold of pulling the lever for a third party for state representative than for US Senator.

3.  Spend 2013 building up not just a roster of candidates, but a roster of volunteers.  In Delaware we could have doubled or even tripled some of our vote totals with more volunteers.  Frankly, we had more candidates than we had volunteers.  That's not good.  Social media is an excellent tool, but I remind you of what Robert Heinlein said repeatedly, "The votes are in the precincts."  We need people knocking on doors, handing out fliers at every public meeting, walking around in T-shirts, calling in talk shows, writing letters to the editor. . . .  Ironically, it is easier to recruit a volunteer than it is to recruit a candidate, but somehow we don't seem to do it.

4.  Spend 2013 building up your resume and your presence in your community before you run.  This is Politics 101.  When you announce for office, a lot of people should already know who you are, because they've met you at the Food Bank fundraiser, worked with you on a school PTA committee, watched your kids play soccer.  If you have to introduce yourself to your community during the election itself, you are already way behind the power curve.  We need to move from, "Who is this guy?" to "Wow, he's a Libertarian?  I've seen him dozens of times and I never knew."


Joe Hauptmann said...

This matches up fairly well with what we have learned in Indiana. The only other point I would add is that it is hard to run energetic campaigns after statewide ballot access drives.

Gregory Koch said...

You forgot several Senate and Gubernotorial candidates, including Jessica McVay in Delaware. Technically four LP House candidates ran state-wide races too, since their states only have one district.

Gregory Koch said...

You forgot several Senate and Gubernotorial candidates, including Jessica McVay in Delaware. Technically four LP House candidates ran state-wide races too, since their states only have one district.

Steven H. Newton said...

Unless Jess McVay had a sex change operation since last week, he's still a guy.

I did leave out several. I left out Delaware because Jess ran an essentially paper campaign and did only one debate. But in Delaware our Lt, Governor candidate , our state Insurance Commissioner candidate, and our US House candidate all beat Gary Johnson. David Eisenhour doubled his total.

I didn't do the one-district Congressional campaigns because I didn't frankly think of it, but I don't think they change the argument.

Gregory Koch said...

Googled my old writings and found this. I always thought Jess was Will's wife?

We saw the same trend in Connecticut, although at least one of my friends voted for GJ but then voted straight Democrat (not Republican - Democrat) down the list, including House and Senate, where the LP had candidates, although he didn't have a choice for State Assembly because there was only one candidate (I would totally have switched registration out of my home state to my school address and petitioned on the ballot if I knew there would be no Republican. Even if I did absolutely nothing I could probably get 20%. Oh well)

Back to the point, the friend said he liked the fact that Johnson had run such an active campaign, and that Judge Gray had visited campus, and said he hadn't heard much about the Senate or the House candidates. He does have a point - the Senate candidate's website frequently decided to redirect to an appliance website in Chinese, for reasons nobody can figure out, and the only time I ever heard from the House candidate in that capacity (he's also state chair) was when I pretty much begged him to come to campus to speak on two different occasions. Once was a standalone event for a club, where he arrived 20 minutes late and then decided to park in the distant commuter lot (it was night, so he can do that free) rather than pay $2 to park in the garage across from the meeting. So he was 30 minutes late and all but about three people had left(including me, who couldn't vote for him because I'm registered at my house in New York, my friend, who was already voting for him, and someone who knew he wasn't voting for him but wanted to listen anyway) Then there was the Political Awareness Rally we sponsored, which he was also 20 minutes late to, which wound up being ok because one of the speakers dropped out at the last minute so that saved us the trouble of filling 20 minutes between the speakers and the musical performances. But even if it was good from the perspective of the people running it, it didn't go over well with the people attending. We also (we being the student organization, it wasn't the candidate or party's fault) put it in a slightly different location than last year, which reduced turnout, plus it was outside in sub-freezing temperatures. But both Dan Reale (our candidate) and the Green Party candidate spoke. We invited the Senate candidate multiple times and he never replied, so eventually we took someone from Students for Liberty and decided we didn't want 3 libertarian speakers since it was supposed to encompass all ideologies and third parties, not just the LP.

Also, I know of at least one person who voted "Paul Pasquarelli" for Senate because "he wouldn't be any worse than McMahon and Murphy. And at least then we'd get a new football coach." Only one problem - there is no such person as Paul Pasquarelli. There is Paul Pasqualoni, the awful UConn football coach who should be fired, and Paul Passarelli, the Senate candidate. I suppose it's possible he got some votes for having a similar name to the UConn football coach. Whether the fact that the coach sucks helped or hurt the vote is hard to say. That idiot voted Libertarian just so we'd get a new football coach - which is a stupid enough reason to vote for someone when the actual football coach is running, and he wasn't. But I suspect if the entire state didn't hate Pasqualoni, "Pasquarelli" might have been better liked too.

And this wouldn't be the only name incident like that - some guy named Bill Maher ran for the Arizona Legislature as a Green and got about 15% of the vote, which was better than the Party had ever done. It wasn't the celebrity, just some random guy named Bill Maher. But it worked. We should find some Libertarians with the same name as celebrities and run them for office. :-)