The Libertarian Party is a United States political party created on December 11, 1971, in the home of David Nolan. The first and only Electoral College vote it has won was for presidential candidate John Hospers and vice-presidential candidate Theodora B. Nathan in 1972; this was also the first electoral vote won by a woman.

Table of contents
1 Platform
2 Political power of the Libertarian Party
3 Libertarians: left or right?
4 Prominent party members
5 External links


Key tenets of the Libertarian Party platform include the following:

Libertarians claim that their platform follows from the ultimate value of individual liberty: the right of individuals to exercise sole dominion over their own lives and property, and to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to do the same. To this end, Libertarians want to reduce the size of government (eliminating many of its current functions entirely), and cut taxes.

Libertarians reject the commonly held "right vs. left" description of political positions. Instead, Libertarians refer people to the Nolan chart to communicate their perception of political orientation (see below).

Within the larger framework of libertarian politics, the Libertarian Party's platform falls roughly in the realm of free market minarchism. The party advocates limiting the government as much as possible, within the framework of the United States Constitution. As in any political party, there is some internal disagreement about the platform, and not all the party's supporters advocate its complete implementation, but most think that the USA would benefit from most of the Libertarian Party's proposed changes. However, a few Libertarians are actually anarcho-capitalists who view minarchy as a first step towards the abolition of government.

Political power of the Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party is the third largest party in the United States by most objective measures, including the following:

  • The Libertarian Party is the only third party organized in all fifty states.
  • In the 2002 elections, Libertarian candidates for state House of Representatives received more than a million votes -- more than twice the votes received by all other minor parties combined.
  • In the 2000 elections, the party ran about 1,430 candidates at the local, state, and federal level. More than 1,600 Libertarians ran for office in the 2002 mid-term election. Both numbers are more candidates than all other third parties combined ran in these elections.
  • Following the 2002 elections, more than 300 Libertarians hold elected state and local offices. This is more than twice that of all other third parties combined.
  • In 2000, 256 candidates ran for seats in the House of Representatives. In 2002, 219 candidates ran for House seats. These are the only two times in over 80 years that any third party has contested a majority of House seats.
  • In 2000, Libertarian candidates for U.S. House won 1.73 million votes. This count is more than any other third party in U.S history by raw vote totals, although not by proportion of the electorate.
  • In 2000, Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Carla Howell won a record 11.9% of the vote. Then in 2002, Michael Cloud won 19% of the vote for the other Massachusetts seat in the U.S. Senate. (In the latter case, the Republican candidate failed to meet ballot access requirements.)
  • In 2002, Ed Thompson won 11% of the vote for governor of Wisconsin despite being excluded from the debates. As a result, one of the eight members of the Wisconsin Election Board is a Libertarian. No other third party holds a seat on the Election Board of any state.
  • The Libertarian Party has run in all 50 states in four elections: 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000. No other third party in U.S history has managed to run a presidential candidate in all 50 states more than once. 50 state ballot access is so difficult that only the Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans are even attempting it in 2004.
  • Libertarian candidates have finished third in a presidential election twice, in 1984 and 1988. No other current third party has ever finished third in a presidential election more than once.

Evidence opposing the view that the Libertarian Party is the third largest include:

  • As of October 2002, the Libertarians ranked fifth in voter registration nationally. The Constitution Party ranked third with 317,926 registrants, next to the Greens' 274,740 and the Libertarians' 208,456. However, most observers believe that of the 299,231 California voters affiliated with the Constitution Party, who are actually registrants of California's American Independent Party, nearly all registered in the belief that they were registering as independents i.e. not associating with any political party. Also, excluding New York (where Libertarians are not counted) and California (where the American Independent Party skews the results), Libertarians rank third in voter registration. The Libertarians ranked third in eleven states, the Greens ranked third in eight states, the Constitution Party ranked third in two states, Reform ranked third in one state, and Natural Law didn't rank third anywhere. (The total is twenty-two because most states don't allow voters to register with third parties.)

  • Unlike the Greens (one in Maine), the Independence Party (one in Minnesota), the Progressive Party (four in Vermont), the Republican Moderate Party (one in Alaska), and the Working Families Party (one in New York), the Libertarians currently have no representatives in state legislatures. On the other hand, twelve Libertarians have previously been elected to state legislatures and former Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul currently serves in Congress -- but he was elected as a Republican.

Members of third parties often complain that the U.S. electoral system is biased against third parties by first-past-the-post voting and, in many states, by onerous ballot access laws. Despite their difficulties winning elections to high offices, however, Libertarians have been credited with helping to defeat both Democrat and Republican candidates, a charge they do not dispute. For example, Libertarian U.S. Senate candidates polled 3, 21, 29, and 6 times the margin of victory in Georgia (1992), Nevada (1998), Washington (2000), and South Dakota (2002), respectively. In these elections, one Democrat (in Georgia) and three Republicans (in the other states) were defeated. Critics contend, however, that to credit the Libertarians with this outcome, one must believe that Libertarian voters would probably have turned the election over to the loser, rather than staying home or increasing the margin of victory. Since Libertarians are drawn from both the left and the right and many would never vote for a Republican or a Democrat, it is difficult to be sure how an election would have proceeded without a Libertarian candidate. In fact, a Libertarian Party press release of January 2003 admitted that "in the past, the LP's use of the 'spoiler effect' has been essentially random, and often unintentional", and that only in 2002 did they make a concerted effort to play "spoiler" in elections. This led to the defeat of the Libertarian Party's number one target: Republican Bob Barr.

Libertarians: left or right?

Libertarians often assert that their political positions transcend the left or right taxonomy. In fact, the stated platform of the Libertarian Party does differ from positions held by both traditional "left" and "right" movements in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike traditional "left" parties, Libertarians favor minimally regulated, laissez-faire markets; unlike traditional "right" parties, Libertarians favor social freedom including legalization of drugs and strong civil liberties. Furthermore, Libertarians disagree substantially with both the Democratic and Republican parties, which respectively purport to represent the center-left and center-right in U.S. politics.

However, the party has historically had more influence on and closer ties with the Republican Party. For example, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed to be influenced by Libertarian principles, and was praised by many Libertarians for attempting to shrink government. The tendency of the American right to co-opt the language and social critiques of Libertarians with regard to market deregulation (for example, the frequent citing of studies by the Cato Institute) contributes to a perception of Libertarians as right-wingers. One critic also contends that Libertarian campaigns against Democrats tend to be more frequent and more energetic than their campaigns against Republicans. In a 2002 South Dakota election for Senate, for example, Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans suspended his campaign a week before Election Day and urged voters to support Republican candidate John Thune.

On the other hand, Democrats come closer than Republicans to the Libertarian position on civil rights. For example, the Republicans installed John Ashcroft as Attorney General in 2001; Ashcroft was widely held to advocate massive curtailments of civil liberties, a view that only gained currency with his actions following the USA PATRIOT Act's passage. The Libertarian Party has sharply attacked these curtailments of civil liberties. The party has also made the repeal of drug prohibition laws its number one priority, a position that puts them at odds with the Republican Party.

Conservative and liberal pundits cannot seem to agree how to place the Libertarian Party, either. Prominent conservative Ann Coulter has accused the Libertarians of being a single-issue party because she disagrees with them on the Drug War, while others accuse Libertarians of focusing predominantly on issues of market regulation. Whether the Libertarian defense of social freedom makes them more a left-wing party or their defense of economic freedom makes them more a right-wing party or whether, as Libertarians say, their comprehensive defense of freedom transcends the right/left taxomony, depends on the observer's point of view.

Prominent party members

See also: List of political parties in the United States

External links


Libertarians as "spoilers"