Secret Spoiler?

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The invaluable Current Electoral Vote Predictor daily map-making guy has the following up on his site today:

There is a secret spoiler lurking out there that only political junkies have ever heard of: Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party. He is on the ballot in 48 states, vs. about 35 for Nader. Some polls show him pulling in 1% to 3% of the vote. […] The pollsters don't seem to know about Badnarik and rarely include him in the polls.

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  1. Sadly, even if Badnarik has a bigger effect than Nader (measured by electoral votes in states where Badnarik’s total is greater than the margin between Bush and Kerry), I predict that the media will still focus its attention on Nader’s spoiler role.

    I hope Badnarik finishes in 3rd place in the popular vote, and that his total exceeds the margin in a few swing states. Maybe if that happens I’ll be proven wrong. I’m not holding my breath, however.

  2. Go Badnarik! I’m thrilled to be part of the statistically insignificant movement to elect MB. Wish more people would exercise their freedom to think outside the 2-party system. Saying its pointless to do so is symptomatic of the problem. 😉

  3. Badnarik can only be a “spoiler” if he attracts significantly more voters away from one candidate than he does from the other. I haven’t seen evidence that that’s the case.

    When Nader gets 1% of the vote, it’s a safe bet that virtually none of that 1% would have picked the Republican as their second choice. But as this forum has shown, there are plenty of people with Libertarian political views who *would* see Kerry as the second-best option after Badnarik, either for pragmatic reasons (divided government) or out of disgust with Bush’s anti-libertarian behavior. So even if Badnarik and Nader got approximately equal numbers of votes, I suspect Nader’s effect would be dramatically greater.

  4. What Dan said plus, what if the media ever got a handle on the percent of people who refuse to vote on principle? (We’re not all simply lazy/shiftless.)
    Talk about a secret spoiler not so secret and not so minuscule.

    Non-voting anarchist speaking.

  5. Dan,

    The real spoiler effect would occur if disaffected conservatives who despise Kerry vote for Badnarik just to hose Bush.

    The reasons righties could be disaffected by Bush – deficits, spending, and the war – are all issues on which Badnarik lines up well with the malcontents.

  6. It is hard to muster enthusiasm for Badnarik, the thinking person’s “Anybody But Bush Again.” The LP had a golden opportunity to find a real candidate. Instead, we get yet another serious, well-spoken kook running for office. Just once I wish libertarians could take a break from being smug and self satisified about being right about the universe and arguing with one another about obscure philosophical points to actually run an intelligent politcal campaign.

    Thoreau… keep my number in the top desk drawer.

  7. Dan-

    Even if Badnarik’s supporters include people who think a Kerry victory is the lesser evil, most of those Badnarik supporters could still be wooed by the GOP. The lesson will be that there’s a group of people out there with enough numbers to swing key states who could be wooed by better GOP candidates.

  8. Thoreau, I completely disagree with the idea that “most of those Badnarik supporters could still be wooed by the GOP.” How do you come to such a monumental conclusion? Is it based on the idea that Badnarik supporters represent some cluster of disenfranchised Republicans? If a potential Badnarik supporter who thinks Kerry is less evil than Bush gets wooed, by what will he be wooed, and under what time frame? Will the GOP relent — in the next 3.5 weeks — on its massive fiscal irresponsibility, its disdain for the Constitution, and take back all the pander-bones it’s thrown to radical-right constituents?

    You also mention “better GOP candidates,” as if they are a reasonable substitution for a Libertarian candidate. They are not, at least not in the 21st C. incarnation of the GOP. I wouldn’t vote for a smaller-government, fiscally brilliant public servant like Tom McClintock because his intractibility on social issues cancel out his overall value. Libertarianism is the solution to the Right-Left conflict, not some trough filled with the waste of the 2-party system.

    I love your posts, thoreau, but this last one just seems wacky. 🙂

  9. Andrew-

    I suspect that many people who vote for Libertarians would at least consider voting for a Republican who combines McClintock’s economic stances with Lincoln Chafee’s social stances. Or even somebody whose social stances are simply those of Papa Bush. (I’ll leave aside the issue of foreign policy, since many libertarians, or at least the ones on this forum, are deeply divided on some of the foreign policy issues of this campaign.)

    Also, libertarians will never have an impact if they convey the message that they could never be won over by either of the 2 parties. They’ll simply be disregarded as unreachable, effectively non-voters.

  10. In a way I’m fortunate to live in a non-battlefield state. Here in the People’s Democratic Republic of Illinois, a vote for Bush is a wasted vote. This will provide a signal ,albeit a very small one, that I’m not happy with the statist policies of the current administration in the only real language that the pols understand other than money.

  11. That’s

    a vote for Bush is a wasted vote. That means I can vote for Badnarik without any repercussions. This will provide

    Preview Shadow preview.

  12. The real spoiler effect would occur if disaffected conservatives who despise Kerry vote for Badnarik just to hose Bush.

    Conservatives so disgusted with Bush that they’d rather see Kerry win will simply vote for Kerry, no matter how much they despise him, for the simple reason that Kerry is far more conservative than than Badnarik is on both the war on terrorism and on social issues.

    The lesson will be that there’s a group of people out there with enough numbers to swing key states who could be wooed by better GOP candidates.

    It has already been demonstrated that openly supporting libertarian principles, at least on economic issues, costs the Republicans elections. The GOP knows libertarians exist — and it knows that we’re dramatically outnumbered by “big government conservatives”. So you can forget about being wooed.

  13. thoreau,

    With your first paragraph (in last post), I agree. It’s hard to say that, coming to Libertarianism from the Left, but, yes, I agree.

    Your second paragraph, however, worries me only because it perpetuates the idea that the 2-party system — even among enlightened folk like yourself — is the litmus test for political viability. Ok, ok, reality vs. idealism, and all that. Are you suggesting, without explicitly saying so, that edge parties shouldn’t waste their time?

    Also, I don’t suggest that Libertarians spurn the Big 2, although I don’t know why anyone should care whether we do or not — aside from Democrats and Republicans running for office. I do suggest that we hold our own against the increasingly indistinguishable principles of the Dems and Reps.

  14. joe:

    “…disaffected conservatives who despise Kerry vote for Badnarik just to hose Bush.”

    You rang?

    “The reasons righties could be disaffected by Bush – deficits, spending, and the war – are all issues on which Badnarik lines up well with the malcontents.”

    Yep, (joe knows us so well) spending and the war are the big ones. Add to it the liberty threatening aspects of the Patriot Act and this nonsensical and Orwellian, “War on Terror” BS. Now, I’m assuming that the GOP holds congress but that’s not a safe assumption since the senate is certainly in play. So for my part, I’ll proudly pull the lever (or punch the chad, or what ever) for Badnarik and work hard for the election of Pete Coors to the senate, who will be far more fiscally frugal than Salazar, the Dem nominee.

    Good bumper sticker seen around the Denver area: “God I Miss Reagan and Elway”.

  15. Are you suggesting, without explicitly saying so, that edge parties shouldn’t waste their time?

    Not at all. I think third parties are important. I’m even a dues-paying member of the LP. I just think that spoilers have their biggest impact when they produce a show of force that gets the major parties thinking.

    I have no illusion that spoiling Bush will cause the GOP to completely abandon big gov’t conservatism. But consider the Christian Right: I keep reading that Karl Rove was upset in 2000 when a lot of evangelicals stayed home. That concern hasn’t resulted in, say, a ban on abortion, but it has caused Bush to pay attention to the Christian Right and make sure that they are included as valued members of the GOP coalition.

    Libertarians are largely forgotten members of the GOP coalition. (I know, not every Badnarik voter comes from the right, but the fact remains that libertarian types have been much more prominent in the GOP coalition than in the Dems coalition.) If libertarians make an impact in swing states, they will be remembered. It might not yield a lot, but it will yield more than we’ll get from being forgotten.

    Besides, I actually continue to harbor this crazy dream that some maverick Democrats will take up a few left-libertarian issues in pursuit of the youth vote. You won’t see a Democrat campaigning in Florida on a platform of cutting the payroll tax, but a Democrat running for Congress in a college town might do it.

    Maybe it’s because I actually came to libertarianism from the left as well. It shows in the issues that concern me most. For instance, repealing regulations that increase the cost of housing for low-income people are a higher priority for me than tax cuts. Drug legalization is a bigger concern for me than gun rights. Not that I oppose gun rights or tax cuts, just that we all have our favorite issues and, well, mine show my leftish background.

  16. I came from (more towards) the left, too, but now I hear Democrats talk, and they make me even more ill than Repulicans, quite often. So I think I am one of those folks you speak of, thoreau, that could possibly be swayed by a better Republican candidate.

    Taxes and gun rights are biggies to me, incidentally, but so is the war on drugs and vice, in general. The gov’t should just stay out of private people’s affairs. At the same time, you can pull my heart strings with a well-reasoned and impassioned plea to help the poor or be careful with the environment, to give a couple of examples.

    Go figure.

  17. I reject the notion that any third party candidate is a “spoiler.” Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a right to have their members elected to office.

  18. Jason-

    I agree with you that the judgemental/moral connotations of the term “spoiler” are wrong. Certainly no party has a predetermined right to my vote.

    However, despite the perhaps unfortunate choice of words, the “spoiler effect” is a real thing to pay attention to when thinking about elections: There’s simply no denying that some (most?) of the people voting for a third party candidate would have otherwise voted for one one of the 2 major party candidates, and if the numbers are enough to affect the outcome then the candidate has had an impact.

    Indeed, some in the LP are actually embracing the spoiler effect rather than running from it. I wish I could remember which state it was (OR or WA, I can never remember which) where the LP told GOP state legislators that anybody who voted for a tax hike would face an LP spoiler in the next election. Some ignored the threat and they tried to follow through. I don’t know how successful they were in defeating the Republicans who supported the take hike, but I applaud their efforts to turn this effect to their advantage. I hope that over time they might sharpen their skills at using it. I have no illusions that they could dictate the entire agenda, but by carefully picking their battles and running effective campaigns they might have a small but real impact on the legislative process.

    And I’d be absolutely ecstatic if the LP could find a way to use this effect against Democrats. I know, it won’t be easy, but I think one could put together a decent left-libertarian platform by combining the best ideas from the ACLU and the Institute for Justice. If a state LP chapter delivered an ultimatum to Democrats on those sorts of issues and then ran candidates who focus on those issues they might defeat some incumbent Democrats. Ironically enough, that sort of left-libertarian strategy would also be gratifying to more conservative-leaning libertarians, since it would mean more Republicans in the legislature (their “lesser evil”) and fewer Democrats (their “greater evil”).

    See, everybody will win if the LP helps Democrats lose! 😉

  19. I voted absentee for Badnarik yesterday. The my key issue in any election is will the candidate expand liberty and freedom. Neither Bush nor Kerry qualify under this standard, therefore the decision to vote Badnarik is quite simple.

  20. I think Badnarik is NOT a spoiler and many here are simply wishing for something to be true that isn’t. Nader doesn’t poll over much 2% and he’s well known. Badnarik isn’t going to get 1%, much less 3%. I woouldn’t even know who the LP candidate WAS except for this board and Neal Boortz, and Boortz ain’t votin’ for him! You poll people about the candidates and I bet very few people know he’s even running!
    I mean Thoreau has a great THEORY for the LP, but you guys have GOT to get some votes. I am willing to bet this, the vote for third place goes, Nader, the Communist Candidate, and then Badnarik.
    The LP used to claim to be the most succesful third party in US history, IIRC. It’s not any more and is about to become an irrelevency.

  21. Thoreau:

    “Maybe it’s because I actually came to libertarianism from the left as well.”

    I knew it! Now he admits it! 🙂

  22. Jose,

    Agreed that Libertarians need to stop infighting over fine points and run a serious campaign.

    Badnarik seems like a class act, and the story of his nomination is impressive, but in a lot of ways he represents what is wrong with the LP.

    Too much of Libertarian (particularly Badnarik’s) rhetoric is based on the constitutionality of the current government. Historically, because-the-constitution-says-so arguments have never worked too well (look at gun control) and often come off as backwards and reactionary.

    The concept of individual rights transcends the constitution. We are born with free-minds, not granted them by the grace of the government. The LP should base more of its rhetoric on true philosophy and hold out a vision of a freer future instead of some percieved ideal past.

    Freedom is not a reactionary idea, and this nation was never as free as I would like it to be in the future. What the LP needs, I feel, is some vision.

  23. Pseudo – “The concept of individual rights transcends the constitution. We are born with free-minds, not granted them by the grace of the government.”

    FWIW, Badnarik does make this point fairly frequently, repeating that the Constitution does not give you rights, it only protects them. I was pleasantly surprised when I met him and heard him speak recently, because I was ready to write him off as another kook. I still think the LP has that problem – failure to recognize that being an effective political party means dealing with realpolitik and not acting like a debating club – but it’s harder to paint Badnarik that way if you’ve heard him.

    More apropos to the original topic, I just wonder how accurate these polls are WRT “spoiler” candidates. It wouldn’t surprise me at all but that a lot of people say that they’re going to vote for Badnarik (or whoever), but on election day, they get scared about the possibility of Bush or Kerry actually winning, get cold feet, and end up voting for Kerry or Bush.

  24. Historically, I think the Iraq war has placed the LP in exactly the same position as the Libertarian YAFers were in during the Vietnam era.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see any sort of tactical alliance with left happening anytime soon.

    When I interned in the press office at my local ACLU affiliate I frequently made this suggestion and my Cuba-loving comrades found the mere thought of sharing a political platform with “those evil libertarians” about as appealing as a kerosene enema.

    Let’s face it: Were in a political cul-de-sac.

  25. Okay, my little manifesto above was a little optimistic, but realistically, if we can be spoilers, by all means, lets be spoilers.
    At least two years of divided government lockup under Kerry wouldn’t be so bad, and maybe a statement can be made. Is four more years of Bush really any better? Its a lose-lose situation with the Republicrats. If you call yourself a libertarian, prove it. Vote for a libertarian.

  26. I’m fascinated by the number of posters who believe Badnarik isn’t drawing some measurable part of his support from disaffected Republicans. Literally every LP member I’ve met in real life (approx. 6 or 7) is a former Republican.

  27. Jack,

    Most Libertarians lean toward the right, but there are also those who will vote uniformly for the LP, and those who would otherwise not vote at all. I haven’t met any leftish LP people who actually understand the LP and aren’t just trying to piss off their parents, but I guess those idiots can vote just like anyone else. God Bless America.

  28. “Literally every LP member I’ve met in real life (approx. 6 or 7) is a former Republican…”

    Same here.

    I’ve also noticed a certain insecurity complex among GOPers. They always log onto H & R and then threaten to cancel their subscription to REASON if ANYONE here doesn’t agree that GWB is a Rushmore-stature Presidential icon.

    Oh yeah and they bitch about Julian a lot…

  29. Cletus,

    Not all of us GOPers.

  30. Here’s another Libertarian (20+ years) who skipped from lefty Carter-era Democratism past Reagan’s faux-libertarian Republicanism, directly into Libertarianism. I’ve never looked back. The couple of decades I have spent doing my bit to promote and build the LP, and voting for LP candidates, have been years that would have been completely demoralizing, had I wasted them trying to work within either the Democrat or Republican parties. I sleep a lot better — instead of sleepwalking — and I feel clean after voting — instead of fleeced. I have seen the number of elected Libertarians grow from 50 or so to over 600. I have seen Libertarians write statewide ballot proposition arguments that helped carry the day to defeat taxes or onerous laws and regulations. I have seen Libertarians crusade against taxes or stupid ballot access restrictions in court — and win.

    In that same time, I have seen various people throw themselves against the wall of the GOP and splatter themselves into burnout or sell-out. I’ve seen liberty-minded Demos become apolitical because of the impossibility of having any significant effect in that party.

    Hey, people are always telling Libertarians to compromise, and to be happy with half a loaf. Clearly, the electoral victories so far aren’t all we had hoped for, but it’s definitely been a slice! And I’m still smiling!

  31. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I think more libertarians see Kerry as the lesser of Republocrat evils this time around than vice versa. Bush has raised the bar (pie?) so high on evil, it’s damn hard to compete… even for a hardened statist like Kerry.

    Anyone living in a ‘swing’ state who would like to take a more active role in ousting Bush, while supporting the Libertarian Party at the same time, might want to check out votepair.org. They’re a ‘vote swapping’ site that pairs third party supporters in swing states with Kerry supporters in safe states, they recently added Badnarik to their list of eligible third party candidates. They explain why in their FAQ:

    http://www.votepair.org/faq.php#libertarian

  32. Literally every LP member I’ve met in real life (approx. 6 or 7) is a former Republican…

    Hm. The libertarians I’ve known (myself included) started out as members of the Libertarian party and have drifted through Independent status towards Republicanism over the years as it became increasingly apparent that the Libertarian Party is only interested in posturing, not in actually achieving any libertarian political goals. Better the party that promises 50% and delivers 5% than the party that has zero interest in delivering anything but self-righteous speeches.

  33. Libertarians should also keep in mind what the effect of Bush winning will be on the Republican party. It practically guarantees that the next Republican nominee will also be a socially conservative, war-happy big spender. If Bush loses, maybe the next GOP presidential nominee will be more moderate in one or more of those three issues. Which would be nice.

  34. Well, here in Illinois, there’s probably little chance of a spoiler effect on either of the important elections. As a libertarian-ish republican – or the other way around? I’m not sure 🙂 – I’m rooting for Jerry Kohn for Senate, and hope that his turnout is high enough to convince the state GOP that Keyes was the wrong direction to go. I think it’s important to get a higher LP turnout in local and statewide elections, which in Illinois tend to be very dysfunctinal.

  35. It practically guarantees that the next Republican nominee will also be a socially conservative, war-happy big spender.

    Why? None of the big-name Republicans with a shot at the 2008 nomination fit that description.

    If Bush loses, maybe the next GOP presidential nominee will be more moderate in one or more of those three issues.

    Allow me to illustrate why your theory doesn’t pan out: George Bush *is* the “next GOP presidential nominee”. The previous Republican President was bounced from office by dissatisfied deficit hawks and isolationists who defected to Perot. They were “rewarded” with a President who’s even worse on those issues.

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