Can libertarians have success outside the two-party system?

Even with the 2016 election a full year away, the next election cycle is in full-swing. Along with the discussions about which candidates, if any, are worthy of support of libertarians, there is an ongoing discussion about whether or not libertarians should work within the two major parties. The argument goes like this: “Libertarians will never get elected or be successful, therefore the only way to win is to join the Republican or Democratic Party.”

The vast majority of the people who make such an argument seem to forget, or don’t know, that the Libertarian Party has elected State Representatives in the Alaska and New Hampshire legislatures in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s. This doesn’t include the hundreds of people that have been elected to various county, city and town offices around the country. It should be noted that the two major parties have colluded to make it incredibly difficult for people to run for office under the banner of their choice, essentially coercing people to join one of the two major parties if they want to get elected.

Those advocating for not working outside the two-party system are perpetuating the belief that electoral success is the only way to measure political success. This is not true. Political success should be defined as: a political party or group affecting change in policy. By this definition alternative political parties, and the Libertarian Party, have been successful over the years.

Andy Craig reports on some of the successes of minor political parties since 1856. One of the most well-known successes of a minor political party can be attributed to the Prohibition Party. Craig writes, “The Prohibition Party runs a Presidential nominee every four years… The 18th Amendment prohibiting alcohol in the US [wa]s ratified in 1919. Probably the most dramatic example, since many historians now conclude that Prohibition never actually had majority support in many of the states that ratified it, and possibly not even in the nation at-large.”

You may be thinking, “that’s just one example.” Yes, it’s just one example, but is not the only example of a minor political party having success. The Populist Party of the 1890’s had their platform adopted by the Democratic Party. The high vote totals for the Bull-Moose Progressives and Socialists of the 1910’s encouraged the Democratic Party to shift their economic policies which culminated in the election of FDR in 1932. Fighting Bob LaFollette, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and John B. Anderson all influenced the platforms or strategies of one or both major parties.

Political parties and groups are able to achieve these successes through persistence. The Libertarian Party platform for 44 years has supported marriage equality and ending the war on drugs, among other things. In June of this year, the US Supreme Court recognized the fundamental right of two consenting adults to marry. There have been successes in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington in one front of the war on drugs, specifically cannabis. These are only two successes of the Libertarian Party, and with more effort by LP members there will be more in the future.