The Virginia Governors race between Dem. Terry McAuliffe, Rep. Ken Cuccinelli, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis demonstrates, frankly, the best way to get politicians to listen to you is to significantly impact an election. While Sarvis did not impact the outcome of the election, he likely narrowed the Democrat's margin of victory. In the case of the Virginia Governors race, the lesson may be for Democrats, not just Republicans, to pay closer attention to moderate voters who value both economic and personal freedom.
Despite McAuliffe leading by 7 points in the polls leading up to the election, he only won by 2.5 percent. A surprise to many is that Sarvis, the libertarian candidate hurt McAuliffe the Democrat more than Cuccinelli, the Republican. Sarvis turned out not to be the Republican spoiler conservatives had predicted. Exit polls reveal that twice as many Sarvis voters would have otherwise voted for McAuliffe over Cuccinelli. (ABC reports a third would have gone for McAuliffe, more than twice as many as for Cuccinelli)
Pundits had assumed the relatively popular libertarian candidate, Sarvis, garnering roughly 10 percent in the polls was a boon to Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, at the expense of Ken Cuccinelli the Republican. (And yes, 10 percent in public opinion polls for a libertarian is high). However, Sarvis proved himself a serious candidate and deserving of attention—not just of Republicans but Democrats too. He’s a graduate of Harvard, Cambridge, George Mason, and NYU, pushes market based solutions for health care, and advocates for less government intervention in the economy, but also supports same-sex marriage. He also favors eliminating certain taxes and regulations that give preferential treatment to some industries, and strengthening liability laws to empower property owners to hold businesses accountable for environmental damage. Perhaps the fact he was even willing to discuss environmental protection and closing tax loopholes earned him credibility among Democratic voters.
Exit polls reveal that Sarvis voters were slightly more likely to be found among moderates, liberals, those with higher educational attainment, among those who think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and non-tea party supporters. Moreover, what is even clearer is they were not overwhelmingly found among conservatives, those who disapprove of the president, or disapprove of the health care law.
These data provide some preliminary evidence to suggest how pragmatic libertarian candidates can appeal not only to Republicans, but Democrats too. Political candidates who believe markets generally solve problems better than government bureaucrats but also publicly demonstrate a sincere concern for the environment, and the power of the wealthy and politically connected to take advantage of government at the expense of everyone else can perhaps prove to Democratic voters they are not a shill for “powerful others” like corporations.
The lesson for libertarians is an unfortunate truth: the best way to get the political apparatus to care about you is to win an election, or at least significantly impact it. In fact, this is how evangelical Christians made their way into the Republican Party in the 1980s and 1990s. The tea party movement really only garnered significant national attention when tea party backed candidates beat out establishment backed Republicans in the primaries (i.e. Sen. Rand Paul beating Trey Grayson in Kentucky, Sharon Angle beating Sue Lowden in Nevada, Sen. Mike Lee replacing Bob Bennett in Utah, etc.)
Pragmatic libertarian candidates may be painful for the political parties in the short run, but may also demonstrate the importance of appealing to voters in the middle who want both parties to lean toward greater economic and social freedom.