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busting the spoiler myth

if voting made any differenceI disagree with descriptions of Libertarian election campaigns as “spoilers”. This assumes all votes Libertarian candidates attracted were taken from the potential Republican or Democrat tallies. Supposedly, they stole fiscally conservative votes from Republicans or culturally tolerant votes from Democrats.

A rather obvious problem with this theory is that elected Republicans have shown no signs of being fiscally conservative while Democrats have demonstrated just as much support for personal liberty. To people wanting to vote FOR those views, the two leading parties almost never represent them once elected.

Libertarians often reinforce that theory claiming a victory of sorts when the difference between the two main candidates is less than the Libertarian candidate’s vote total in a three-way race.

This perspective drives big party supporters to discourage the small party opponents from running in, and ruining their race. It inspires small party candidates to design their campaigns towards attracting votes away from the big boys.

However, a more realistic view of voting-age adults says that nearly always they have a choice between casting a ballot for more government or casting no ballot. In their entire adult lives, that has been the experience 100% of the time. Doing anything BUT voting on election day is a pragmatic, practical decision.

In reality, rather than providing an alternative to voting Republican or Democrat, minor party candidates offer a choice of saying “I am willing to vote, but not for either of the main candidates.” The majority of the pro- Libertarian votes come from that huge slice of the pie that is the otherwise non-voting public.Ada Sheriff pie 1

Comparing the 2008 Ada County Sheriff election to the 2012 helps illustrate this point. It is representative of most I have looked at, but I am much more familiar with this particular one. The campaign strategy was based entirely on ATTRACTING those who otherwise had nobody to vote FOR.

In the 2008 election, of the adults who could have voted FOR the sole Sheriff candidate, only 44% chose to do so.

In 2012, after four more years on the job he impressed even fewer of his county residents, Ada Sheriff pie 2attracting only 38% of the potential votes.
In that one his supporters had much more incentive to go vote for him as there was an actual competitor for the office.

In the former one-way-race, the incumbent attracted support from 44% of the potential voters. In the latter two-way-race against a Libertarian he received 17,660 fewer votes, but non-voters went down by 23,354.

Of those votes the incumbent lost from one election to the next, assuming they were “taken” by the interloper rather than simply lost by the incumbent is not likely to cover an overwhelming percentage.

It is not like the Dunlap campaign tricked or cajoled Raney supporters away, either…
Raney Republican – Dunlap Libertarian
Raney thousands of yard signs – Dunlap none
Raney major campaign finances – Dunlap virtually none
Raney incumbent – Dunlap no elected public offices ever
Raney 29-year LEO – Dunlap no law enforcement experience
Raney endorsed by media – Dunlap no organizational endorsements
Raney 118,723 votes – Dunlap 41,014 – non voters 150,529Ada Sheriff pie3

Looking closer at the pro-Dunlap votes, at most, 43% of them were taken from Raney. That attributes the entire 13% reduction in Raney votes to the Dunlap campaign. The majority of them came instead from the non-voting slice of the pie, cutting it from 56% down to 49%.

If there is any party that had its election spoiled, it is the Non Voter who had its 56% majority stolen to become a 49% minority.

Imagine a campaign targeting that group with the application of real resources.



For more details on that campaign, see Sheriff campaign 2012.