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 Third Parties Can Be Both Principled and Influential

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Third Parties Can Be Both Principled and Influential Vide
PostSubject: Third Parties Can Be Both Principled and Influential   Third Parties Can Be Both Principled and Influential Icon_minitimeFri Nov 11, 2022 4:42 am

Well, this is unusual. The term “libertarian” is trending on Twitter. Why?

In the days before the midterm elections, some Libertarian Party candidates have created a stir by dropping out and endorsing the Republican candidate who seems to have adopted some libertarian principles.

The most striking case is the election for U.S. Senate in Arizona where Marc Victor has left the race and urged his supporters to vote for Republican Blake Masters.

Third Parties Can Be Both Principled and Influential Libertarian_Party_Porcupine_USA-700x420
The Statue of Liberty is the official symbol of the Libertarian Party, but the porcupine is used to represent libertarianism because it is a defensive animal that doesn't harm anyone who leaves it alone. The libertarian porcupine was originally designed by Kevin Breen in 2005-2006.

The reason is obvious to anyone involved in politics. Staying in the race threatens to bring about a worse outcome of splitting the vote and causing the Democrat to win. Believing that the whole point of the Libertarian Party is to push the idea of human liberty within the electoral system, Victor decided it would be better to take a bow out rather than risk causing a worse outcome.

And this decision makes sense, of course, but it also raises an intriguing point concerning third parties in general. They exist to disrupt the ideological blandness of the two parties which in most regular times are far closer in issues of policy than they would like to admit. Third parties need to be there to provide voters a genuine option.

Parliamentary systems of government have many parties that hold seats in proportion to the votes they get. For whatever reason, the United States has a different system. It is a winner-take-all democracy. That changes everything about the status of third parties. It means that they will forever be excluded from power due to Duverger’s Law.

This law, the only one ever really discovered and codified by political science, is not really that complicated and is easy to understand. When there are three choices but majoritarianism dictates only one winner, people tend not to vote for the favorite choice but against the choice they like the least, and they vote for the choice that is most likely to defeat their least favorite candidate.

This is true in any and every area of life, not just in politics. For example, let’s say that I announced to a crowd of people that I’m giving away ice cream to everyone but only one flavor wins and everyone must eat it. I will hold a vote to see which flavor is preferred: vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. Whatever happens, everyone is stuck with the result.

You might love strawberry but despise chocolate so therefore you vote for vanilla because you sense that many people will vote with you. Everyone else will adopt some version of this strategy of worst-outcome avoidance. The result will be that either chocolate or vanilla will win. Strawberry might be beloved but neglected as a result. Or strawberry could end up as the spoiler flavor, causing a majority to eat a flavor they truly despise simply because the popular choice could not win a majority of votes.

This matter becomes extremely important in elections. The Libertarian Party, for example, could draw Republicans away from a candidate that would otherwise win and cause a Democrat to take office.

Now you could say, hey, this is fine because it shows that people need to respect Libertarians more. The trouble with that argument is that it smacks of nihilism because the practical effect might be to guarantee that the least libertarian candidates always rule. A third party cannot really thrive if it operates as nothing but an election spoiler.

There is a further danger that third parties come to be used by their enemies in order to keep their friends out of power. This is a serious issue and cries out for a solution. Marc Victor has intuited what the solution is. Campaign hard, raise money, gain a following, start polling well, drive the main candidates toward your positions, and then before the election, endorse the major party that best represents your values.

Stephan Kinsella explains:

“Marc’s focus was not on personal self-aggrandizement or power; it was on getting results in the direction of liberty. He used his potential spoiler status to extract something from Masters: a candid, public conversation where he actually answered substantive questions about liberty. Now as it turns out, Masters happens to be very libertarian-oriented already. So in this case, the concession mostly resulted in assurances and information ….

“Given our ‘winner takes all’ system, the LP candidates usually get around 1 percent of the vote, or less. Perhaps if LP candidates explicitly endorse a tactic modeled after what Victor did, they could in effect simulate the parliamentary systems of Europe where minority parties get non-trivial amounts of the vote and use this as leverage to form coalitions to advance their goals.”

His point about simulating parliamentary systems here is very powerful. It means that the parliamentary pressure to pay attention to minority positions occurs before the election and not after. Thought about this way, third parties become essential. They help a winner-take-all democracy not be eaten alive by the median voter theory that causes the two parties to chase only moderate voters. In effect, third parties can become very effective pressure groups that can make a huge difference.

This also solves another problem that has long vexed the Libertarian Party or any other third party. That is: how can they at once maximize the number of votes they get and still remain true to their principles? Under this strategic model, third parties can be as principled and hard core as they want to be, knowing that their points will have to be reflected in the main debates and the election as other candidates court their support.

This leaves a third party such as the Libertarian Party in an excellent position to be truth telling and ideologically pure while still having a great influence on election outcomes.

To me this solves what is basically a 50-year-old problem. The party has forever toggled between principle and popularity. In 2020, the party pursued a disastrous strategy of not talking about lockdowns at a time when the country and world needed an alternative voice more than ever. That decision caused tremendous upheaval in the party, causing one faction to be entirely thrown out while a purer faction rose to power and control. But now the new faction faces the problem that it might suffer in the polls.

Thus does this new approach solve the whole problem. If the LP had done this in 2020, it could have contributed to ending the lockdowns much earlier by driving the Republican or Democrat parties to a position that was clearly very popular but which neither side wanted to take with any kind of focus. The LP missed its chance and thereby contributed to the doom we currently face as a result of the pandemic response.

That is unforgivable, so far as I’m concerned. The LP could have saved the country but instead it completely flopped, and why? Because it was fearful of losing votes.

Clearly a change of tactics is needed. And Kinsella has figured out what must change. The focus should not be on winning elections but influencing the issues that drive elections. In the U.S. system, this is the path for third parties to play an absolutely indispensable role.

I’m pretty sure that Murray Rothbard—one of the founders of the party—would have been overjoyed at this insight. His intuition was always that there is no point to the party except to advance the strongest-possible philosophical position, all while knowing that this tactic would not necessarily gain votes for the party. He would, I believed, be extremely impressed by Kinsella’s strategic insight here: be truth telling but also dogged in the pursuit of the best-possible election outcomes.

This is a beautiful way forward. This tug-of-war between ideological purity and election success has caused decades of division and acrimony in the party. With this insight, it can all come to an end. The party can be both principled and very powerful, so long as it understands the game that it can and must play.

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