Gary Johnson

Libertarian Gary Johnson Should Win the Election

But What Good Will That Do Him?


Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson did something amazing last week: got double-digits (10 percent) in a September poll of likely voters in Ohio. He's simultaneously getting the usual smattering of positive press, the most popular of which has been Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic declaring that he intends to vote for Johnson. Friedersdorf explains that serious liberals should have serious problems with President Obama on war, civil liberties, and executive power, issues on which Johnson is superior.

Beyond that sort of principled iconoclasm, serious news sources such as NPR are declaring Johnson might likely sway the election in that third party role as "spoiler" for both Obama and Romney in swing states. Johnson told C-SPAN this week that his own polling has found that in New Mexico and Colorado, he takes more from Obama, and in North Carolina and Michigan he takes more away from Romney. A Reason-Rupe poll finds him taking equally from both nationally.

Is it possible the Libertarian Party, in a year of great discontent with both major party candidates, can make a real difference, or at least earn more than 1 percent, a feat that hasn't been matched since the 1980 campaign of L.A. attorney Ed Clark and billionaire industrialist David Koch?

The biggest barriers to Johnson's success are money and attention.

According to FEC filings as of the end of September, Johnson's LP campaign had spent $1.6 million through August. Johnson told C-SPAN this week the campaign has spent more than $2 million. (In comparison, Bob Barr spent $1.4 million in his 2008 Libertarian campaign.) While Politico reported in late September that "significant super PAC support for Johnson has yet to materialize," at least one Johnson-oriented SuperPac, Freedom and Liberty PAC, has spent to support Johnson in August and September, according to FEC filings, $35,000 on telephone surveys, $80,000 on making TV commercials, $100,000 on a website, and a quarter million on advertising in August and September.

Money is so important that Johnson's campaign did something liable to piss off many hardcore libertarians who don't believe in publicly financed elections. He sued the FEC, trying to get $750,000 out of them before the election that he claims he is legally entitled to and has not received, as the Miami Herald reported last week. (Johnson has qualified for some federal matching funds, under a separate funding program, and the Herald reports he has gotten $303,000.)

More important than money—since it's the thing the money buys—is attention. Johnson is also seeking a legal remedy to get more of that via the presidential debates: the desperate and un-libertarian expedient of an antitrust suit against the debate's sponsors, the Commission on Presidential Debates, and the Republican and Democratic National Committees. The suit claims they are "conspiring in restraint of trade" to keep him and his Vice Presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray out of the debates they jointly control, and are trying to illegitimately "monopolize the field in the race." (Johnson will be providing online commentary on the debate he's excluded from and has failed to halt tonight at Google Hangout.) The attendant pressure revealing the merely bipartisan nature of the debates has led three of the debate's 10 sponsors to withdraw their sponsorship.

Johnson has reason to feel he just needs a little more help, like money or debates, to push him over a hump. A September Reason-Rupe poll shows Johnson polling 6 percent nationally (with the majority of his supporters seeing themselves as independent-leaning Republicans). Despite this, a forthcoming Reason cover story on Johnson by Garrett Quinn reveals that most LP insiders outside the Johnson/Gray bubble (both men still insist they are running to win) doubt their ticket can even beat the record of slightly over 1 percent set 32 years ago by Clark and Koch. And that was in a year with a Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan, whose pretty good libertarian rhetoric was not yet belied by his record, and with a third-party candidate, GOP renegade John Anderson, who pulled over 6 percent.

My own prediction? Based largely on my immersion in the world of Ron Paul fans I would make a rough guess, based on mere experience and not rigorous survey data, that about a quarter to a third of Paul's fans seem inclined to go Johnson. I think Johnson will pull between 750,000-800,000 votes; I can't be sure what percentage that will end up being as I'm also guessing a very low turnout based on general disgust with the Republican and Democratic choices.

In recent memory the only real newsmakers in terms of raw numbers for third parties were George Wallace in 1968 with his 13 percent, Anderson and his 6.6 in 1980, and Ross Perot, with his 19 percent in 1992 and the anticlimactic but still impressive 8 percent in 1996. (Perot also pulled pretty equally from both parties, and he also drew in many nonvoters.)

What can Johnson learn from these third-party predecessors? George Wallace had his unique, thank goodness, set of race and class resentments to play off. What Anderson and Perot both had, and Johnson sued to get for himself, was presence in at least one national debate.

Anderson appeared in a debate with just Reagan, who magnanimously agreed to joust with Anderson while President Carter refused. Anderson was indeed polling above the 15-percent mark nationally. But even though he and many debate coaches thought he won, Anderson sank as the election approached and was excluded from a later Carter-Reagan dustup. Anderson himself is sure that getting in that second debate would have doubled his results.

Perot got to debate both his opponents in 1992. At the time he had little going for him but wealth, eccentricity, a strong business record, and the beginnings of a prescient obsession with debt and deficits that, alas, has had little political staying power. Despite all that, he made modern third-party history.

We hear that libertarian attitudes are ever-growing in the public, and Johnson is the only candidate offering actual solutions to pressing national problems of the fiscal crisis, the massive debt, and imperial overreach. He isn't as sharp as former GOP candidate Ron Paul was in hardcore libertarian terms on tax policy (Johnson's support for the "fair tax" annoys some libertarians because it is, after all, a new national sales tax), and he is less consistent on opposition to foreign intervention.

Reason and logic might dictate that Johnson should at the very least get the votes of the 2.1 million who went for Ron Paul in the GOP primary season. As Paul has pointed out to me, his people believe many disillusioned leftists, peaceniks, and anti-drug-warriors, who would not otherwise have anything to do with a Republican primary, stand with Paul and thus with Johnson on those issues.  

Yet, as the dour assessment of many LP insiders show, there is something about long experience that just leads you to doubt anything interesting can happen for third parties, no matter what the current polls or logic show. Third party candidates regularly end up earning far fewer votes than the heights of their polling indicate That was the case for Perot (who was leading both Bush and Clinton at one time) as well as Anderson. Ralph Nader underperformed his early polling, and even the LP's last standard bearer, former GOP congressman from Georgia Bob Barr had polls showing him getting anywhere from 3-7 percent in the months leading up to an election in which he earned 0.4 percent.

Beyond what data we have now—not particularly useful given Johnson's lack of presence in most polling or media—the two-party wagons have weeks to circle. An Examiner article by Karl Dickey that blithely declares 5 million votes for Johnson makes the bad assumption that people who would directly benefit from his winning and who are directly harmed by either of his opponents' winning — like internet gamblers or pot smokers — will perforce vote for Johnson. Alas, people don't actually vote their self-interest, and even pot smokers and gamblers can't be counted on to be single-issue voters. That sort of libertarian triumphalism based on who benefits from a more libertarian world will continue to lead to overly optimistic libertarians astray.

Which is more than a shame. Johnson can win, in theory. He's on the ballot so far in every state but Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oklahoma. At least one online survey discussed by Fox Business showed  "that if the Presidential race was based on people's beliefs, it would be between Obama and Johnson." But David Kirby at the Cato Institute, dredging data from a Reason-Rupe poll from September, decides that Romney will be capturing 70 percent of what he identifies as the libertarian vote, even with Johnson in the mix.

One huge flaw with how Kirby decided who qualified as "libertarian" is that it includes no consideration of foreign policy, where any libertarian would be hard pressed to see anything to support in Romney, and a great deal to love with Johnson.

Johnson is saying the right things about stopping the wars and how we've departed from our nation's founding principles. He's trying very hard to appeal to the rising generation by stressing drug legalization, by explaining how the current system screws the young, and of course by crowd-surfing, handing out rolling papers with his image, wearing the same peace sign T-shirt for days in a row, making silly zombie videos and answering questions of all comers on Reddit three times. (Alas for a youth-based strategy, it's very hard to get them out to vote in large numbers; not even Obama could do it.) Johnson is trying to avoid scaring people out of the political paradigm they've embraced for life by mildly asking them to "be libertarian with me" for just one election, not rethink their politics entirely.

It may be that what everyone really wants is not liberty for themselves or others, but income redistribution, a government that they think will solve their problems or be on their side in a culture war, or otherwise play dangerous games that are nothing but a recipe for crisis. Johnson has a lot going for him—except the imprimatur of the two party system, the mark of normalcy that is all too mysteriously necessary in American politics even when we hear of huge expressed dissatisfaction with both of them.

A May Reason-Rupe poll found 80 percent saying they'd consider voting independent, but if experience teaches us anything, it's that nearly all of them really won't. Both sides' likely voters seem highly motivated by a strong dislike for the other choice, such that they aren't inclined to "risk" the other winning by going third party (though any individual voter can rest assured the results will by a mathematical certainty be the same no matter what he or she does).

Perot and Anderson did well not so much by challenging a two-party status quo as by selling the same nonsense under different labels and with styles that stood out from their particular opponents. Johnson, to his credit as a thinker and his detriment as a politician, is selling something truly new, necessary, disconcerting and scary: a government that actually lives within its means, stops trying to manage our lives and does not presume to control the world. His failure to excel won't hurt him; he's got a good private life and seems inclined to run again anyway. But it will hurt America.

NEXT: Sensitive Documents Left in Ruins of Benghazi Mission

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  1. Is there an intelligent reason to vote for Romney? Could a case like this even be made for Obama?

    1. A Mormon in the White House would be sort of exciting. It’s one step closer to getting a Hubbardist in the Executive Branch.

      1. So….no?

        1. No.

          Massively stupid reasons that have the stink of desperation of a dying man, but no, no intelligent reason.

    2. Between Romney and Obama, only one is a mass murderer. That is about the depth and breadth of my pro Romney argument.

      1. Of course, when Ryan said he wanted to enact a 20% income tax cut across the board, I got a thrill, much like I did listening to Obama’s rhetoric from 2008. A too good to be true mainstream politician must be full of shit.

      2. Between Romney and Obama, only one is a mass murderer.

        So far. Give the Romniac 3000 time. He won’t disappoint.

        1. Hey, we can have 12 years of competition from Romney and Obama, see who can beat Bush’s body count first.

  2. Of course GJ is more liberal than Obama. The problem is that not only is Obama not liberal, but most so called liberals are not liberal either. They are progressives, which is just about as anti-liberal as you can get.

    If all Libertarians would pull their heads out of their arses and stop buying into this lesser of evil crap or just as bad, staying home and not voting, Johnson could get 15+ of the popular vote. That would definitely shake up the GOP. Of course it would have no effect at all on the Dems who are completely owned by the progressives and who could not change course even if it meant their complete demise to not do so.

    1. Libertarians make up 15% of the voting populace? That is impressive!

      1. Maybe not be actual card carrying Libertarians, but those who identify themselves as being Libertarian or who would be likely to vote for Libertarian leaning candidates.

        Google it, and you will see what I am talking about. Here is a blurb from Cato:

        In our new study, David Kirby and I round up various estimates on the number of libertarian-leaning voters. Our own calculation, 14 percent, is actually the lowest estimate

        Most sites I have seen estimates on are around 15%, so that would make sense.

      2. Libertarians make up 30 percent of the American population, and 1 percent of the voting populace.

        1. The problem is, PRECISELY because they are Libertarian that they aren’t keen on voting to force their viewpoints on tohers.

          Libertarianism is a contradiction in democratic governments.

          The goal should be to change the system away from elections to “sortition”, which is what the Greeks who invented democracy used.

          Basically it means there would be a lottery to determine representatives. Today we use this Greek method for Jury duty, but not for the “Civic duty” of representation.

          And this would be a popular position to take, as think how the average person would like the idea of ACTUALLY HAVING A CHANCE TO BE IN GOVERNMENT. Whereas today, only the rich and famous, or those with special interest backing, are allowed into Congress.

          1. It also means that instead of getting 1% vote and NO representation, if 30% of the population is Libertarian which they are, then we’d get roughly 30% of the Congress.

            Basically because a lottery system picks people at random, you get less partisan politics, and people who DON’T want to legislate every little aspect of your life may actually get into power.

            Whereas in elections, there is far too much sacrificed (time money) to not use the power they sacrificed to gain.

    2. How is the lesser evil crap, “crap”, if Johnson could, in your wildest imagination, score 15% of the popular vote?

      You still end up with one of the two evils.

      There has to be a better path for libertarianism than bitching about the people who choose to vote “lesser evil” every four years, simply because the guy they really like stands no chance. It has yet to get us anywhere.

      1. If all of them would stop voting for the lesser of two evils, then the guy who actually stands for something good could win. I stopped buying into the lie and a lot of other people have too, finally. And GJ could get 15+% of the vote or more and that is not just in my wildest dreams.

        We are getting somewhere! Look what the RP folks have done with the GOP in several states. There are far more potential L voters than there has ever been and they are getting more involved. A lot of them are young. Looking at the following that RP has among youth. Obama couldn’t pack places like RP did with young people if he paid them and bussed them in.

        We have to stop these progressives from destroying our country. And voting for the lesser progressive is not going to cut it. Romney is a progressive, Bush was a progressive. McCain is a progressive. Fuck, Clinton was further to the right than any of them.

        We have to have a strategy and the best strategy IMHO is vote for the GOP candidate(you know, the one more likely to win?) if there is a Libertarian leaning GOP candidate available, otherwise vote L, don’t vote for the statist progressive RINO. I would have voted for RP if he would have been the GOP candidate, but since he’s not, I am voting for GJ.

        1. Yes, but when mugged with reality one must admit that all of them won’t, which means your Johnson vote will ensure Obama. However you feel about Romney, only a moron could prefer him to the marxist.

          1. and in your own mugging with reality you must realize that no statewide election is going to hang on one vote, so implying that the above posters vote is going swing an entire presidential election is just a big misplaced guilt trip.

          2. However you feel about Romney either candidate, only a moron could prefer him to the marxist either one.

            All fixed.

          3. Funny. The left says voting for Johnson will ensure a Romney victory.


          4. I don’t know what everyone else read, but your sentence structure suggests you want the marxist in office.

      2. Actually there is absolutely no argument for voting for the lesser of the two evils except in the 6 swing states. In every other state if you want to send a message to whichever party wins, either that they should be more anti tax or more anti war, you should vote for Johnson.

        1. That’s what I’m going to do (vote for GJ).

          It’s just that the idea that the “lesser evil” might be a better choice than the greater evil, is not “crap” by any stretch.

          You’re really thirsty and you’re lost in the woods. Hunger won’t kill you quickly, but genuine thirst would.

          You could drink from a stream, which most likely will give you giardia, or you could refuse to drink from it.

          Do you drink it, and strive to be rescued before you get ill, or do you not drink it, and die of thirst?

          Lesser evil decisions are a part of life. They’re not crap.

          1. true. but its not analogous. i do not go into the voting booth and choose the president. i just cast a vote. no matter how i vote, the odds are very very long that the fate that results will occur because of my choice. no matter who i vote for, odds are that the fate will be the same. given how small the odds are, arent i just better off voting for the greatest good?

          2. Picking nits:

            Giardiasis is usually asymptomatic, and the body can normally clear it without treatment.

        2. Exactly what I’m doing. Texas is in no danger of getting stolen by Obama, believe me.

  3. got double-digits (10 percent) in a September poll of likely voters in Ohio.

    Proof that he’s crossing over… big time.

    There are only about 22 libertarians in the entire country, and pretty much all of them post here, and not all of us live in Ohio. So that means Johnson is pulling some serious crossover love.

    Good on him.

    1. Actually, polling suggests that about 15-20% of voters are libertarian, most just dont know it.

      1. What I just said above. If you google it and look at polls and surveys that have been done recently, that is accurate.

      2. And I mean, FTW, I was Libertarian for years before I knew it. I thought I was just weird or something because I couldn’t fit into the mold of either major party.

      3. Actually, polling suggests that about 15-20% of voters are libertarian, most just dont know it.

        And they’re so unaware of it, that they won’t even vote that way!

        1. Because they are still buying into the lesser of two evils, the good guy can’t possibly win bullshit.

    2. As a Columbusite, I do call for cheers that my huble midwestern state is starting to lean towards freedom-centric candidates.

      Now if we could only get rid of Sherrod Brown and Pat Tiberi we would be in good shape.

  4. I guess this isn’t an endorsement, since we all know how Doherty hates voting.

    1. Actually, it’s interesting that you said that. I had the good fortune to be at a book release party for Doherty’s Ron Paul book (in case there are still any of you unaware, Doherty wrote a book about Ron Paul this year. It may have been mentioned on this website in passing a time or two), and Doherty mentioned then his disdain for voting and that he will not participate this time around, as usual.

  5. Hey John, does this count as another anti-Romney article in your book?

    Remember, kids: if you’re against Obama and don’t vote for Romney then you’re really voting for Obama…or something retarded like that.

    1. You’re devastating morale!


  6. I wish that Gary Johnson would focus his efforts on winning one or two of the Western states. Even better would be if the rest of the states’ electorates worked out that neither Obama or Romney gets 270. This would really show that the Libertarian party is viable, and could become a viable second party for 2014 and 2016. So please focus the campaign money on New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, etc. wherever he is polling highest.

    1. GayJay won’t break .50%

      1. You are a worse troll than Tony.

      2. We will see in November, no more speculation needed. I think he will get more than 5%.

        1. You realize the LP record is barely over 1%. Average is about .50%.

          1. Yes, I realize that. But the GOP and Dems are getting more unpopular by the day. More people are looking for real change.

          2. Their best year, 1980, a faux independent, John Anderson, used their ballot access law suits to piggy back not the ballot and then sucked the oxygen out of the room. Way more than 1% were willing to vote against the Dems and GOPsters that year.

            1. About 9% total IIRC

    2. Right now, the House would split 33-16-1 (GOP) if voted along part lines, with MN being the one tied.

      I dont see the House swinging back far enough that any but Romney would win in that case.

      No point to that, I was just curious how it broke down.

    3. You can’t “focus” 1.3 million anywhere. You need 1.1 million just to keep the campaign alive. Then try spreading 200K in advertising dollars around, to people who have been told by every TV network and radio talk show host that there are 2 major candidates.

      1. Why don’t you do what I did. Get ahold of some Gary Johnson street or yard signs and out them up all over your town. Right now if you drive through Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park, or Capitol Hill in DC you are likely to see one.


  7. I’d be interested to see the totals from

    1. I just did the test and guess what? I side with GJ on most issues. Who would have thunk it?

      1. 95% I agree with GJ according to the site. I got 86% Libertarian rating. Which surprises me a little because I am pretty much a big L libertarian these days.

        1. For a closer match, always check “more choices” and answer more questions. I wound up +90% for RP + GJ.

          1. I did that on about half of the questions. Some of them were no brainers so it wasn’t required, such as:

            Do you favor more gun control?


            Do you favor legalization of marijuana.

            1. Some of the more choices options are more libertarian than the plain ol’ yes or no answer.

              The drugs one has an option that would also release current drug prisoners; which seems like common sense. The gun question also includes an option for the implementation of a national stand your ground law.

              I choose those two options because I am not a poseur.

    2. It says I side 94 percent with Gary Johnson — kind of surprised me, as I was expecting closer to 85 percent. I think the areas I disagree I put less weight on.

      1. The 16 percent match with Obama was priceless.

  8. Hello People,

    I invite you to read my book/call to revolution/declaration/plan/new code of law, “What Freedom?!!?”, at

    Robert Farrior

    1. First of all, you need some serious help in website design.

    2. Get rid of all the old laws. Replace them with nothing. Fraud, rape, and murder are pretty morally reprehensible without a written law. The rest are mostly bullshit.

  9. my goal with the election is to make Obama supporters so sad that they decide to give up politics and go do something with their lives only to learn that government makes it next to impossible. I can’t disenfranchise progressives by voting for Johnson.

    1. I can’t disenfranchise progressives

      Of course you can, and should. Here at H and R, we relish the tears of proglodytes. We even collect them and make intoxicating beverages out of them.

    2. I can’t disenfranchise progressives by voting for Johnson.

      You can’t do it by voting for Romney either.

      1. But you have to vote for the progressive lite version of Obamney anyway, man, you are just giving it to the Muslim dude, blahblahblah

  10. If Johnson got into the debates he would get 10 million votes. Americans want what he is selling, they just don’t know he’s running.

    1. And if they thought he had a chance to win and actually compared his record in office to Romney’s and Obama’s, he would win in a landslide.

    2. Agreed.

      But since he’s not in the debates, he won’t break 1%.

      His lawsuit is interesting. I doubt it will go anywhere, though.

  11. Perot got to debate both his opponents in 1992. At the time he had little going for him but wealth, eccentricity, a strong business record, and the beginnings of a prescient obsession with debt and deficits that, alas, has had little political staying power.

    Perot wasn’t just a businessman and a plain talker in 1992 — he was already an American hero, lauded for organizing the rescue of two EDS employees in Iran in 1978, popularized in a best selling novel “On Wings of Eagles”. He was also known for his efforts on behalf of American POWs.

    When he announced that he would run for president if “volunteers” would put his name on the ballot in all 50 states, Larry King did an exclusive live national TV interview with his buddy Ross. CBS followed that up with a prime-time 60 Minutes story about how the billionaire Perot drove himself to work and loved his country.

    Let’s see another third party candidate get that kind of supportive national media coverage again.

    1. And if I recall correctly, he got more than 20% of the vote. But of course, it is impossible for anyone outside of the 2 party duopoly to do that again, ever.

    2. And if I recall correctly, he got more than 20% of the vote. But of course, it is impossible for anyone outside of the 2 party duopoly to do that again, ever.

      1. FTW! Double post, server squirrels! I hate squirrels!

  12. If the Libertarian Party and true libertarian dipshits (see today’s Drone thread) jettisoned it’s naive foreign policy blatherings, they would crack double digits percentages in national elections.

    But then again, why won’t Americans come around to see the wisdom in a party that hates cops more than Al-Qaeda members? After all, it’s a good thing when cops die at the hands of unknown criminals. But it’s a war crime when a drone kills terrorists.

    Fucking idiots. Own your loserdom!

    1. Wholly’s warboner needs fluffing, stat!

    2. Yeah the government’s a bunch of lying, thieving, immoral scumbags. But they’re totally honest, moral, and pure on foreign policy! If they say someone’s a terrorist, then by golly they must be a terrorist!

      /Wholly Holy Cow

    3. On the off chance that you’re not just trolling, I’ll indulge you with a response. The Libertarian party, and libertarians in general don’t hate cops, or celebrate when cops die. Sure, you’ll see the odd post gloating over a cops death, but it’s always condemned and shouted down, and is usually posted by a troll in the first place.

      Sure, libertarians are critical of law enforcement, and foreign policy, but this is consistent with their overall skepticism of government. Also, I suspect you know most of us have no problem with killing terrorists, but as I’m sure you know, drones, as well as other military actions, kill far more than “terrorists.”

  13. We wouldn’t be Libertarians if we supported the same policies as your favored team, we would just be another asshole like you. Fuck off.

  14. True that.

    I never understood how liberals always want to vote for Obama all the time. Sure, he says things that sounds good. But that’s just talk.

    Be classical liberals. Not the Hilary Clinton/John Kerry liberals.

  15. Of course Gary Johnson should win. He’s the only one running for President who has any business being in the White House. He’s got my vote in a few weeks when I go to early-vote. Not that it matters since it’s a foregone conclusion Texas will go to Romney.

  16. Wish this had been posted last week… The fact that there was serious pressure on the sponsors didn’t make my radar

  17. Please, please, please, before we seriously vote for a third party candidate in the White House, could we get at least a few of his party in Congress? Because the agenda of a President with no allies in Congress is DOA, as Jimmy “I was the compromise candidate nobody wanted” Carter demonstrated.

  18. “Libertarian Gary Johnson Should Win the Election”
    and Peter Pan never grows up…

    The Libertarian party continues to over estimate its progress. They should be focusing on city and state office. Gary Johnson should be run for Congress at most, due to his long hiatus.

    He is boring and that is an unforgivable sin in politics.

    1. Certainly being boring has been cast as an unforgivable sin. I note, however, that the more exciting Presidents we elect, the better Calvan Coolidge (possibly the most boring President ever) looks.

  19. How could a libertarian candidate file such a ridiculous and anti libertarian lawsuit?

  20. This is clearly the right direction. Glad to see User Experience known priority over programming convenience.

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