Bob Barr Wins Libertarian Nomination

by: Chris Bowers

Mon May 26, 2008 at 15:07

Sounds like a wild convention:

Former Rep. Bob Barr won the Libertarian Party's Presidential nomination at the party's convention in Denver Sunday afternoon. He defeated long-time party activist Mary Ruwart, 54 to 46 percent, on the sixth ballot.

Fourteen candidates ran for the nomination. Former Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel was defeated in the fourth round.

Third place finisher Wayne Allyn Root, an internet gambling entrepreneur, is the vice-presidential nominee. (...)

"I'm sure will we emerge here with the strongest ticket in the history of the Libertarian Party," Barr said in his victory speech.

For a great play by play of the convention, click here.

Now, if Barr-Root actually will be "with the strongest ticket in the history of the Libertarian Party," it would require at least 1.07% of the popular vote, surpassing the 1.06% Edwards Clark scored for a fourth-place finish in 1980. Since that election, the best libertarian performance was 0.50% by Harry Browne in 1996, also for fourth place. In fact, 1984 and 1988 are the only elections where the Libertarian nominee even managed to finish in third-place.

As a former congressman, Bob Barr appears to be a more formidable candidate than the typical third-party crusader. Also, Ron Paul's campaign demonstrated that there was both activist excitement, and a 2-3% national voting base, for an effective libertarian candidate. So, there does seem to be an opening, at least in theory.

However, I just don't think that Barr is going to be able to make a real impact on this election. In fact, he probably won't even break the 1.06%, 1980 high-water for Libertarians. For one thing, after decline sets in, third-parties in American never recover. The No Names, the Populists, the Socialists, The Progressives, the Reforms, the Greens-all of them went into permanent decline after an initial splash. Further, you can't change leaders in mid-stream, and Bob Barr is not going to attract the same support that Ron Paul had. The activist excitement around Ron Paul over the last year was closely connected to Ron Paul himself, and will not be easily transferable in such a short period of time. Yet further, even if the activist excitement around Ron Paul was transferable, it isn't going to a Libertarian-come-lately like Bob Barr. Even the Libertarian Party was lukewarm about Barr, as it took him six ballots to receive a narrow delegate majority of 54%.

So, while I would like to believe that Bob Barr will receive more than 1.06% of the vote, I just don't think it will happen. In fact, with Ralph Nader in the field, he won't even get all of the non-ideological, "f**k you" vote, which is the roughly 1% of the electorate that always chooses third-parties no matter what. It is nice to dream of Barr pulling down 3% of the vote, with his supporters drawing roughly 2-1 from the McCain camp, but in truth he will probably get about 1% of the vote, with about two-thirds of his supporters being people who would never vote for either McCain or Obama. So, Barr might swing the election 0.1% in favor of Obama, and thus probably cancel out Nader. There is an outside chance even this small amount will swing a state or two, but not much.

Third parties will not be a significant factor in this presidential election. If Ron Paul himself had run for the Libertarian nomination, it would be a different story. Alas, 'twas not to be.

Update: Another reason Barr is unlikely to be a factor is that third-party performance is actually on the decline (or, at best, stagnant). Click here and here for my post-2006 election analysis on this subject.  

Chris Bowers :: Bob Barr Wins Libertarian Nomination

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Chris (0.00 / 0)
Maybe I'm more optimistic than you, but I don't see much of an argument here.  If I'm reading it right, you think Barr won't make much of a splash because:
1) Third-parties in decline never rebound and
2) Ron Paul has the libertarian votes and Barr won't be able to piggy-back on his efforts.

I just don't know that I find that convincing.  For one, Barr may attract a lot of small-government Republicans who aren't necessarily die-hard libertarians but are upset with McCain, who is perceived as too liberal on immigration issues.

If Barr can pull in just 3 percent in some Southern States, It could throw a swing state to Obama, so even a small splash would be enough.

How many of those .. (0.00 / 0)
small government minded Republicans will end up voting their conscience? .. did they vote their conscience in 2004?

[ Parent ]
It seems that Paul would rather (0.00 / 0)
be Goldwater (or Dean, for a more recent and maybe more apt analogy -- Paul lost in the primaries and not the general like Goldwater) than Nader. It'll be interesting to watch how that works out.

Wave Election For Dems, Grave Election For Libertarians? (0.00 / 0)
Okay, so I exxagerate.

But what good's a poetic license if you never use it?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

3rd parties (0.00 / 0)

I think you underestimate the number of people who are fed up with politics as usual in this country today. Paul has already tapped into a vein on the conservative/libertarian side of things - we see this in the fact that McCain can't seem to get more than 70% of the vote in late primaries.  Bush is historically unpopular, but so is congress.  Many people on the left are fed up with the democrats who were elected to end the war and hold the Bush administration accountable,  and yet managed neither.  People are leaving the Republican party in droves, but for the most part they are now partyless, despite the voter registration drives in the Dem primary states.

Nader is polling better than he did in 2004, and he has less support among his base (Green Party faithful) than McKinney does.  Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party nominee and former Ron Paul advisor) will be able to tap into the religious conservatives lack of faith in McCain, especially in the deep south (He's a popular talk radio host and preacher in NW Florida).

I think at a minimum we'll see the 4 minor party candidates pick up 5% of the vote, even if the two major parties and the media conspire to keep them out of the televised debates as they have in the past few elections.   Barr, McKinney, Nader and Baldwin (probably in that order) could collectively do even better if Obama pulls ahead and McCain turns into another Dole '96.

Despite the bolded text (4.00 / 2)
You are still dreaming.

4 minor parties pick up at least 5% of the vote, eh? So, it will be the largest 3rd party election since 1912, even though both (Obama and McCain) major candidates have huge net favorable ratings, even though third-party performance is declining, and even though the number of self-identified independents is dropping rapidly?.

Not gonna happen. Just bolding text claiming that people are fed up with politics as usual, and referencing lame Zogby polls doesn't make it so. Besides, an end to "politics as usual" has already been co-opted by the Barack Obama campaign.  

[ Parent ]
hmmmm (0.00 / 0)
Ross Perot in '92 & '96 got more than 5%

McCain a net +4 favorable (50/46), and Obama 1 (48/49) yeah, really huge net favorables.

Yes, the short term shows a decline in self-identified independents, but the number is still historically high (27.2% now vs. 24.3% in Nov 2004)

[ Parent ]
It's not a national popular vote election. (0.00 / 0)
You can look at how he effects the vote in individual states. I suspect that he'll draw quite a few votes in Georgia. If Obama can get a significant increase in AA turnout he might be able to win there.

Further Reading

[ Parent ]
Polite Police (4.00 / 2)
This post seems to boarder on snarky and dismissive.  Mr Bowers, even though you own this highway, I'm afraid that I am going to have to issue you a warning.  

[ Parent ]
How are you defining third party? (0.00 / 0)
Ross Perot got 18.9% of the national vote in '92 and 8.4% in '96. John Anderson got 6.6% of the vote in 1980. A candidate like Orval Faubus got only 0.07% of the national vote in 1960 but he got almost all of it in Arkansas, 6.76% of AR's vote.

If Barr gets 7% of the vote in Georgia, SC, or TX it will make things interesting. Barr will have a few million dollars in internet funds at a minimum and depending on how he spends them he can mount a serious effort in a few states.

If isolationism your big issue as a voter you don't have anyplace to go with McCain or Obama so maybe Barr is a home for these voters? Bush ran on an pseudo-isolationist line in '00 and in '04 I think the Iraq War was still tied to 9/11 (at least psychologically) for most voters. Now Iraq is tied to quagmire and gas prices. The isolationists might free themselves from the GOP and vote Barr, at least in the mid single digits.

As for your trends of third party turnout I see campaigns outside of the major parties as discreet events that don't fit any trend. Nader is just an awful third party candidate, running entirely on name recognition in a quixotic run. If Barr has internet money and runs a GOTV effort in a few states, he'll do far better.

John McCain

[ Parent ]
Polling (0.00 / 0)
How Nader polls is not especially relevant (and very prone to swings with no basis reality). It's how he does in the end, and in general third candidates tend to do worse at the ballot box than in polls.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Georgia... (4.00 / 3)
I think the key difference is that Bob Barr has actually held elected office - he's a known quantity in at least one corner of the country. Specifically, he can draw votes away from John McCain in Georgia, one of the southern states that Barack Obama might be able to put in play.  

Further Reading

Interesting... (0.00 / 0)
It is really interesting to consider how Barr's potential strength's might complement the new Obama electoral map--like Georgia. Colorado?

[ Parent ]
convention (4.00 / 1)
I watched a few minutes of the libertarian convention on C-SPAN while I was doing chores. Kind of interesting to hear some of the themes coming from a spattering of nomination speeches - one guy kept repeating that Libertarianism was a sound, centuries old philosophy, supporters of one candidate were talking about reaching beyond the Libertarian press. Then there was some very obvious tension between the excitement of the Ron Paul "revolution" bringing in new blood, versus others wary of pseudo-Libertarians (i.e., Paul, Barr, Gravel) who can't be trusted to carry the banner. And I had a chuckle out of hearing the bipartisan bell being rung, apparently Libertarianism is a big-tent phenomenon with former liberals and former conservatives working together... yeah, let me know how that works out.

"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
-Lawrence Summers

Ron Paul? (0.00 / 0)
Be glad that Ron Paul isn't on the ticket, Chris. A fiscally conservative, stridently anti-war Congressman? Sounds like just the person to draw swing votes away from Obama, especially young voters. Personally, I'm pretty happy with Bob Barr on the ticket, and depending on how badly the Republican Party splinters once the Dems get their act together and start kicking some ass, I wouldn't be surprised to see him do better than expected.

I didn't realize it until yesterday .. (0.00 / 0)
but I knew I'd heard of Wayne Allyn Root before .. and wouldn't you know .. I looked up his name on Wikipedia .. and lo & behold ... eureka!! ...  I bet if people even knew who he was ... they'd say he was a professional sports handicapper ..  which he must suck at .. or else why would he even bother with the whole charade .. does this help him expand his business empire(such as it is)?

I somewhat agree.. (0.00 / 0)
He might not be able to garner a high percentage nationally, but I think he could play a big role in the race anyway.  Some of the states where he could do well in are swing states like Georgia and Nevada.

If he can take a few of those would-be Republican votes in GA and NV then that could easily win the election for Obama.  It could only take 2-3% in each state of those states to make a difference.

John McCain believes "Women shouldn't have a choice."

Georgia is the main one (0.00 / 0)
that Barr might have an effect on, but I doubt it'll be large and I don't see Obama being competitive there unless the election is a done deal.

It's a pity they didn't go for a more traditional libertarian. Colorado is close enough that that could have been an aid and in the Mountain West in general (and Alaska in particular) a strong candidate could have got a lot of people who would never go Obama but don't trust McCain. Although on the flipside such a candidate would have complicated New Hampshire, whereas Barr is likely to lack pull there.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

Gotta disagree with you (4.00 / 1)
I've always placed third parties into two categories - candidate based and issue/organization based. The former includes things like Teddy Roosevelt's 1912 Progressive Party, Strom Thurmond's 1948 Dixiecrat Party, George Wallace's 1968 American Independent Party, and Ross Perot's 1992 United We Stand/Reform Party. These parties gain a lot of attention, votes, and can swing the outcomes of elections - but they never win and because they're organized around a single candidate, they usually fall apart within a few years, unable to sustain themselves.

In the other category are parties based around a set of issues or a common ideology - Socialists, Communists, the 1890s Populists and yes, the Libertarians. Because they are organized around a common philosophy which they believe is unrepresented by the two parties, they have greater longevity - they can basically survive as long as they either 1) don't get absorbed into one of the bigger parties (as happened with the Populists) or repressed out of existence (as happened with the Socialists and Communists).

The Green Party, for example, began as an issue/organizational party and was slowly but surely growing throughout the 1990s in the USA. But in 2000 they shifted categories to become a candidate-based party around Ralph Nader - and they have never recovered.

Libertarians are pretty firmly in the issue-based camp, which means they can have decent staying power.

At this point we need to include the other factor - the votes for third parties are dependent on what goes on with the two main parties. The candidate-based parties are the ones with the biggest impact on presidential elections, and they are uniformly the product of anger at a party that has held the White House for at least 8 consecutive years. When members of that party coalition start fighting, there's a heightened chance that the losing faction could turn to a protest candidate. That's what happened in 1912, 1948, 1968, 1992, and 2000 (to give the most prominent examples).

Will that happen with Barr and the Libertarians in 2008? Perhaps. It might well be a replay of 2000, where Barr gets just enough strength in a close state amongst Republican voters angry at Bush's expansion of government and attack on the Constitution to swing a key state to Obama.

On the other hand, partisan identity is higher now than 8 years ago - the point I believe Chris is making - which would mitigate against Barr having significance.

My guess is, then, much depends on how the actual campaigns are run. If McCain alienates the part of his base most likely to listen to Barr, then Barr might be significant. Same if Barr runs an exceptionally smart, well-organized campaign that gets lots of earned media.

So I'm less dismissive than Chris is, although Barr has his work cut out for him to have an impact.

Why the hell do Libertarians bother with presidential candidates? (4.00 / 1)
Why not just stake themselves out in a state where one of the two main parties are dead/irrelvant, like Utah or Vermont, and try to elect a senate candidate there?  

Libertarianism would be, I imagine, a lot easier to sell in New Hampshire than it would nationally with no press attention.

Your grasp of history is, as usual, poor (0.00 / 0)
Briefly, there are two major kinds of third parties.  First, short-lived ones that have some electoral success for a brief period, like the Free Soilers, the Know Nothings (not the No Names), Populists, Bull Moose Party, the Wallace movement, the Perot movement, and such.  For these parties we don't so much see a big splash followed by a long slow decline, but rather a big splash followed by practically nothing.  

Secondly, there are perennial third parties, which get, at most a couple of percent of the vote, but hang around for a long time.  The primary examples of this in the past are the Prohibition Party and the Socialists.

Your analysis of the Socialists, like your knowledge of the name of the major nativist party in the 1850s, is deficient.  Here's the percentage of the vote that the SPA got in successive elections:

1900 - Debs 0.63%
1904 - Debs 2.98%
1908 - Debs 2.83%
1912 - Debs 5.99%
1916 - Benson 3.19%
1920 - Debs 3.41%
1924 - no candidate (endorsed Progressive Robert M. La Follette)
1928 - Thomas 0.73%
1932 - Thomas 2.23%
1936 - Thomas 0.41%
1940 - Thomas 0.23%
1944 - Thomas 0.16%
1948 - Thomas 0.29%
1952 - Hoopes 0.03%

So, in fact, we do not see a big splash followed by a long decline.  We instead see the party jumping up massively from its first to its second election, then kind of steadying off to about 3% through 1920.  It declines in the 1920s, only to come back again to a higher total with the Great Depression in 1932.  Then, after FDR steals most of their issues with the New Deal, we see a major decline in 1936 (their worst showing ever), from which they never really recovered, before finally breaking up.

The pattern of America's longest-lived third party, the Prohibition Party, also does not fit very well with this supposed description.  Let's look at their totals.

1872 - Smith 0.08%
1876 - Smith 0.08%
1880 - Dow 0.11%
1884 - St. John 1.50%
1888 - Fisk 2.20%
1892 - Bidwell 2.24%
1896 - Levering 0.90%
1900 - Woolley 1.51%
1904 - Swallos 1.92%
1908 - Chafin 1.71%
1912 - Chafin 1.38%
1916 - Hanly 1.19%
1920 - Watkins 0.71%
1924 - Faris 0.19%
1928 - Varner 0.05%
1932 - Upshaw 0.21%
1936 - Colvin 0.08%
1940 - Babson 0.12%
1944 - Watson 0.16%
1948 - Watson 0.21%
1952 - Hamblen 0.12%
1956 - Holtwick 0.07%
1960 - Decker 0.07%
1964 - Munn 0.03%
1968 - Munn 0.02%
1972 - Munn 0.02%
1976 - Bubar 0.02%
1980 - Bubar 0.01%
1984 - Dodgbe 0.00% - and it's been pretty much moribund since then.

So what we see is that after a slow start, the Prohibition party between 1884 and 1916 could more or less count on about one percent of the vote, and could sometimes do about twice as well as that.  Only with the passage of the 18th Amendment do they go into decline, reaching a low point in 1936 with 0.08%, before going through something of a mini-recovery in the 40s, and then entering a steep decline again in the 50s and 60s, from which they did not recover.

The history of both of these parties suggests that a recovery which would allow the party to claim more votes than the past few cycles is perfectly reasonable.

It won't necessarily happen, but the party got 0.32% in 2004 with a nobody (Michael Badnarik) as their nominee.  Unlike most past Libertarian nominees, Barr is someone who comes across as a real politician, and not as a total crank, so it's hard to imagine he'll do worse than the jokers who've been LP nominees over the last several cycles.  And there are a lot of conservative voters who are disillusioned with the Republicans, especially over the war, but don't want to vote for Obama.  As you note, many have been voting for Ron Paul in the primaries.  I don't see why Barr isn't very well positioned to snap up a lot of the Ron Paul support in the general election.  We'll see, of course, but history really doesn't show that a poor showing is inevitable.

I don't know how Bob Barr expects to be respected ideologically as a Libertarian when he was such a lout outspoken character in the Lewinsky affair... (4.00 / 2)
you'd think a true Libertarian wouldn't give two shits about infidelity. Same stain the Newt carries with him to this day, claiming to be an "intellectual conservative" but he was one of the main procrastinators in the whole Lewinsky affair, all the while cheating on his own wife.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.


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