Libertarian Vote Cost GOP Nine Races?
David Nir at Daily Kos found nine Congressional or Senate races where the amount of votes received by the Libertarian Party candidate exceeded the difference between the winning Democratic candidate and the Republican candidate:
As we’ve perused last week’s election returns, we’d noticed a number of races where Libertarian candidates appear to have played spoiler for Republicans—certainly, more than we’re accustomed to. While we haven’t run a comparison with prior cycles, we’ve identified no fewer than nine contests in 2012 where the Libertarian received more votes than the difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. What’s more, none of these involved the typical 1 or maybe 2 percent you ordinarily expect a Lib to garner: Looking at the three-way vote, all but one were over 3 percent, and three took 6 percent or more, with a high of 6.5 percent in the Montana Senate race. These definitely seem like unusually high figures.
So what’s going on here? I wouldn’t want to speculate too much based on this limited data set. But I could easily believe that a growing proportion of conservative-leaning voters are too disgusted with the GOP to pull the Republican lever, but who won’t vote for Democrats either, are choosing a third option and going Libertarian instead. This thesis dovetails with something else we saw this year: independents generally leaning more rightward simply because at least some former Republicans are now refusing to identify with their old party. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that some folks like that don’t want to vote for their old party either.
Of course, in order for this hypothesis to be true, one would have to assume that all, or at least a significant number, of the people that voted for the Libertarian Party candidate in these races would have voted for the Republican candidate otherwise. I suspect that may be true in certain cases, such as Andrew Horning, who was the LP candidate for Senate in Indiana. In that case, it’s possible that some not insignificant number of otherwise Republican voters, including quite possibly people who likely would have voted for Richard Lugar had he been the nominee, decided to protest what they considered a bad candidate by voting for a third party. More generally, though, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that Libertarian votes automatically hurt a Republican candidate more than a Democratic candidate. There were several pre-election polls in states like Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico, for example, that seemed to show Gary Johnson drawing votes away nearly equally from both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
Nonetheless, it strikes me that there is a lesson in these numbers for the Republican Party. Ignore the libertarian vote at your peril.