Finding Libertarian Votes Among the Great Unwashed

Running a statewide race in Texas as an alternative party nominee is a challenge. Texas is a huge state, both geographically as well as population-wise. Its nearly 29 million residents are located within an area, that if square, would be 518 miles on a side. It’s 477 miles from Dallas to Brownsville, 674 miles from Houston to El Paso. 15 million people are registered to vote.

Depending on the year, approximately half of Texas’ registered voters actually vote (roughly 40% in gubernatorial years, 60% in presidential years). Around three-fourths of the voting age population are registered to vote.In 2016, nearly 9 million votes were cast for president. In the last gubernatorial election, almost 5 million votes were cast for governor.

The ballot access threshold of 5% in any statewide race should be an absolute minimum goal of every Libertarian candidate for statewide office – 250,000 votes in gubernatorial years, 450,000 in presidential years. Another significant milestone to consider is 2% of a gubernatorial race that would qualify the party for primary party status. This threshold is around 100,000 votes.

In the party’s last few elections, Libertarian votes for statewide executive positions (where Democrats nearly always have a nominee) has averaged somewhere around 3%. The exception has been the party’s gubernatorial nominees, who have only once garnered over 2% of the vote (in 2010). Voters seem particularly reluctant to vote outside the duopoly for the top of the ticket.

If we think of 3% as the Libertarian base, this is 150,000 votes in a gubernatorial year, 270,000 in a presidential year. The “bump” needed to reach the 5% threshold is 100,000 additional votes in gubernatorial years, 180,000 in presidential years.

These numbers sound reasonable, but finding this number of voters willing to vote Libertarian is like finding a needle in a haystack. But that is the task: find the additional 100,000 or 180,000 voters willing to vote Libertarian to achieve a consistent 5% vote at the state level.

And if one were to seek an attention-grabbing 10%, the numbers are 350,000 or 630,000 additional votes to be garnered from among the “great unwashed”.

They probably can’t all be found on Facebook.

Diffusion of Innovation Theory suggests that the Libertarian “base” are the Innovators when it comes to libertarian political philosophy. These risk-takers have already signed on to the cause. They’re in.

 

The next population from whom to seek votes should be the Early Adopters. Early Adopters are those who are aware of the need for change and are willing to embrace it. They’re comfortable with new ideas and are often opinion leaders. And they’re swayable.

The Early Adopter population may be different for each statewide office. Those willing to take a chance on Railroad Commissioner might be a different population than those who might vote Libertarian for Attorney General. But they’re unlikely to be among the Democratic or Republican faithful, or among those stuck in duopolistic thinking.

Analysis of the 2016 Miller for Texas Campaign (Railroad Commissioner) indicated that “campaign-generated” votes (i.e., those above and beyond the Libertarian base plus those resulting from national politics) came at a "cost" of around a dollar per vote. This is an extremely modest amount by major campaign standards, but still a significant number to be considered. In 2014, Wendy Davis spent nearly $5 per total vote in her bid to become Texas Governor. 

I’ll conclude with recommendations for delegates to the 2018 Libertarian Party State Convention. Other than for judicial races (which have unique considerations), there are three important questions that delegates may wish to consider asking of all candidates seeking the party’s nomination.

Tell us your plan for:

  1. Making sure that 150,000 members of the Libertarian base cast a vote for you.
  2. Garnering an additional 100,000 votes from outside the Libertarian base.
  3. Raising $100,000 or more in campaign contributions, along with a spending plan, to achieve those extra votes.

Delegates might consider voting none-of-the-above (NOTA) if none of the candidates provide acceptable answers to these three questions.

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