The Wasted Vote Syndrome

by: David Bergland

Libertarians who engage in electoral politics, either with the Libertarian Party or as Democrats or Republicans, are invariably confronted with the question: you know you don’t have a chance to win, so why are you running? Every libertarian candidate has heard it hundreds of times. For example, Ron Paul recently appeared as a guest on The View, a popular morning gabfest/interview show. One of the hosts, Joy Behar, led off with exactly that question, about like this: “Well, we all know, including you, that there is no chance you will win, right?” Ron handled it masterfully, pointing out the great success and growth of his campaign so far, his record-setting fundraising, his steady rise in polls, and, if this progress continues, the substantial likelihood that he will move to the front of the pack.

As the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1984, I answered the question this way: “If everyone who is fed up with what the Democrats and Republicans have been doing to them for the past several decades were to vote for me, I would win in a landslide.” That was a true statement, even back in 1984, but it was surely unrealistic for anyone to think, at that point in history, that large numbers of votes would actually come my way. They didn’t.

What’s up with this maddening repetition of what is clearly an insulting put-down? I think it is the entertainment (including “news”) media trying to morph a political discussion into their comfort zone, i.e., entertainment. First we will establish that you are not a viable candidate, so serious political discussion is not necessary. Once that’s done, we can move quickly into frivolity, such as discussing your looniest supporters and the positions you take (e.g., abolishing the IRS) that “everybody knows” could only be held by a madman. So much more entertaining than giving the candidate the opportunity to explain his positions on real political issues. A more cynical explanation is that the media questioners see it as a way to undermine and discourage libertarian challengers to the political establishment before they can make any real headway. That probably gives the bobble-heads too much credit for tactical sophistication.

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