Libertarians as a Major Party by 2026

Scott Elliot analyzes current trends and thinks that, twenty years from now, the Libertarians will be a viable party.

In the next twenty years or so, we’ll become a three-party political system. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party will be joined by the Libertarian Party as a legitimate force in American politics. The Libertarian Party will grow substantially over the next couple of decades, pulling support from both the GOP and the Democrats.

Here’s the reason why: Many Americans are libertarian at heart – they just don’t recognize it…yet. These folks believe in less restrictions on behaviors (a liberal or Democratic view) and less involvement by the government in economic issues (a conservative or Republican view). Right now, many closet Libertarians are counted among the two major political parties. As Democrats continue to espouse increasingly liberal economic policies – such as universal healthcare – it is becoming more and more difficult for libertarians in their ranks to remain. Likewise, philosophical libertarians in the GOP are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the growing influence of the values-based politics – such as pro-life policies and the Defense of Marriage Act – in their party.

This has been predicted before. The bottom line is that the Libertarians will never be viable at the national level unless 1) there are radical structural changes in the American electoral system and 2) the Libertarians become markedly less weird.

For a fuller examination of these points, see my discussions about this with Michael J. Totten, Stephen Green, Bill Quick, and Robin Goodfellow.

FILED UNDER: General, Politics 101, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. bryan says:

    Agreed that the libertarians need to become less weird. But the author misses the point on healthcare. I’d consider myself something of a conservative libertarian, but I also think the healthcare system is a monetary sinkhole. I’m not necessarily arguing for universal healthcare, but the “free market” clearly isn’t cutting it.

  2. Anderson says:

    Concur with JJ.

    I can sooner see the Republicans splitting between their business and fundamentalist wings.

    (For the Democrats to split, there would first have to be a coherent Democratic Party. Otherwise it would be like the Dorothy Parker quip: “How can you tell?”)

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    James,

    When you discuss the weirdness of the Libertarian Party you should always include a picture of the Libertarian candidate who turned himself blue by taking colodial silver. From what I read he thought Y2K was a serious issue and that it would lead to a shortage of antibiotics. I guess some people believe colodial silver is the answer.

    Definitely qualifies as weird, IMO.

  4. […] I think this is right on. Sort of. […]

  5. >I’m not necessarily arguing for universal
    >healthcare, but the “free market” clearly isn’t
    >cutting it.

    If you think what we have in health care right now is a “free market”, you need to be beat about the head with a first semester economics text book.

  6. Kevin O'Connell says:

    If anyone needs to etimate how viable the Libertarians will be in the future surf into http://www.fec.gov and read their financial reports.

    First thing you will see are a large number of amended reports. This is because they have so mismanaged their accounts and books that they have been unable to submit accurate reports for about two years.

    For their latest report you will see that they ended November with with a net worth in the negative, -$17,000.00 and some change.

    Begining this month they will no longer charge membership dues which is a sudden drop in income they are dependant upon. They are on the edge of bankruptcy.

    For the Libertarians to become a major party they must learn basic finances just to fund becoming less weird.

  7. Tano says:

    For the Libertarians, or any other party, to become a viable third party, the dems and repubs would need to decide not to co-opt what might be a rising public sentiment for libertarian policies. The two major parties have survived for so long precisely because they have always managed to co-opt fringe movements that threaten to catch on with the public. I see no reason to suspect that if libertarianism became more popular, that the two parties wouldnt succesfully weave such policies into their platforms.

  8. Believing in the viability of a third party in the United States ignores the political system. There is only room for two parties and the core beliefs of those parties will subtly shift to the fashion of the electorate.

    Yes, other countries have viable third and minority parties, but with dramatically different political systems.

  9. A Three Party System ?

    James Joyner at Outside The Beltway points to this post by Scott Elliott where he predicts the emergence of the Libertarian Party as a true third party within twenty years:

  10. […] James Joyner at Outside The Beltway points to this post by Scott Elliott where he predicts the emergence of the Libertarian Party as a true third party within twenty years: Here’s the reason why: Many Americans are libertarian at heart – they just don’t recognize it…yet. These folks believe in less restrictions on behaviors (a liberal or Democratic view) and less involvement by the government in economic issues (a conservative or Republican view). Right now, many closet Libertarians are counted among the two major political parties. As Democrats continue to espouse increasingly liberal economic policies – such as universal healthcare – it is becoming more and more difficult for libertarians in their ranks to remain. Likewise, philosophical libertarians in the GOP are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the growing influence of the values-based politics – such as pro-life policies and the Defense of Marriage Act – in their party. These forces in both major parties that run contrary to their more libertarian brethren are showing no signs of backing off. As a result, I predict a slow steady bleed of philosophical libertarians from both the Democrats and Republicans. This migration will produce, sometime in the next two or three decades, a political system with three major partisan players. Elliott is right that there is a subset of the American electorate that is, in some sense, libertarian at heart. It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that this means success for the Libertarian Party, for several reasons. […]

  11. McGehee says:

    If you think what we have in health care right now is a “free market”, you need to be beat about the head with a first semester economics text book.

    Thank you Stormy — that was my thought precisely.

    As for the “two-party” system we allegedly have in this country, I don’t think so — more of a one-and-a-half-party system, in which one or the other is persistently ascendant over the other with only brief interludes during which the lesser party gets a chance to remind people why they’re the lesser party.

    You don’t generally find a lesser party holding both houses of Congress for a decade, for example…

  12. No Third-Party System

    The problem with the Libertarians is that they refuse to simply back up what they’re saying with the underlying message: people should be free to be responsible for themselves, and no one else should be responsible for the actions of an individ…

  13. ICallMasICM says:

    Off the top of my head LPA candidate Harry Browne received almost a million votes for POTUS in ’96 Bednaril received around 300,000 in ’04. I’d anticipate similar results in the future.

  14. “Libertarians” Are Fruitcakes

    In which I piss off a bunch of my readers, yet again

    I realize slagging L/libertarians is going to piss off all kinds of people, because this is the blogosphere (where L/libertar(d)ians are ridiculously overrepresented) but I don’t care. Via s…