Reason: Polling data analysis negates Republican claims of Libertarians as ‘spoilers’

Phil Anderson, the 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor of Wisconsin

In a post at Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog, Matt Welch makes the counterintuitive case that inclusion of Libertarian gubernatorial candidates in otherwise “disgracefully inadequate” voter polls has been shown to increase the chances for Republican candidates, more than for Democrats.

Through his analysis of polling data from several races nationwide, Welch renders moot Republicans’ claim on the “spoiler” argument, reminding readers that “no vote intrinsically ‘belongs’ to any candidate or party.” He also hints that no candidate will be able to claim they won a true majority, with his prediction that on Nov. 6, “nonvoters will almost certainly outnumber ballot-punchers.”

From the Oct. 17 article, “Libertarian gubernatorial candidates making things harder for…Democrats?”:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, once considered America’s most effective conservative reformer at the statehouse level, is fighting for his political life. A Marquette University poll released [Oct. 10] of 799 likely Wisconsin voters showed the two-term incumbent holding on to a rail-thin advantage over Democrat Tony Evers, 47 percent to 46 percent. Far above that one-point margin sat Libertarian Party (LP) nominee Phil Anderson, at 5 percent.

Jared Lord head shot portrait, wearing dark 3-pc suit with lapel pin, aubergine shirt, striped tie, sporting beard & mustache, expression of repose, plain dark grey backdrop (color photo)

Jared Lord, the 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor of Nevada

Is this not the perfect example of what George Mason University economics professor Daniel B. Klein meant when he argued that “The LP helps the Democrat Party,” and therefore “reduces liberty”? Not so fast.

Anderson has been included thus far in five nonpartisan polls, averaging 4.4 percent to Evers’s 47.4 and Walker’s 44.6. Only one of those surveys, a Sept. 30–Oct. 3 effort from NBC News and Marist College, asked respondents both with and without the Libertarian as a choice). Given options that more clearly resembled the actual ballot, voters defected more from the Democrat: 53 percent to 50 percent, compared to the 43-42 point leakage for Scott Walker. Anderson pulled three percent, White two percent.

With the important caveat that the overall amount of evidence is exceedingly small, this trend plays out in the other gubernatorial elections for which we have comparative polling data about [alternative]-party inclusion effects.

Josh Welter head shot portrait, wearing dark suit, aubergine shirt, striped tie, smiling at camera, bluish-green backdrop (color photo)

Josh Welter, the 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor of Minnesota

Nevada, whose governor’s race is almost universally rated as a toss-up, includes a solid Libertarian candidate named Jared Lord competing against Democrat Steve Sisolak and Republican Adam Laxalt. In the four nonpartisan polls that have included him, Lord is pulling 4.8 percent, compared to Sisolak’s 40.8 percent and Laxalt’s 40.5. In the one poll that asked both with and without the Libertarian, Laxalt’s one-percentage-point margin of 46–45 widened to four points (44–40 percent) when voters were given more choice.

In Minnesota, Democrat Tim Walz had a 55 percent to 38 percent lead over Republican Jeff Johnson in a recent NBC News–Marist College poll when surveyors left Libertarian Josh Welter out of it, but that shrank to 51–36 after 6 percent of likely voters chose the Welter option.

Only in the toss-up gubernatorial race of Ohio does the one with/without poll suggest that the Libertarian might be peeling from the Republican. Given the choice both of LP candidate Travis Irvine and Green Constance Gadell-Newton, voters gave 3 percent to each, while splitting Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray, 44–44. Without the smaller-party candidates, it was still tied, 47–47, suggesting that the net effect was a push.

Travis Irvine (color photo)

Travis Irvine, the 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor of Ohio

The truth, as ever, is that no vote intrinsically “belongs” to any candidate or party, that nonvoters will almost certainly outnumber ballot-punchers three weeks from now, and what scant evidence we have is conflicting and race-specific on the question of what Libertarian voters would do in a world without that choice. Exit polls after the 2016 presidential election, for example, showed that 55 percent of Gary Johnson voters would have just sat out a Libertarian-less election, compared to 25 percent who would have voted for Hillary Clinton and 15 percent who preferred Donald Trump.

It also cannot be stressed enough that we have a disgracefully inadequate polling picture not just for Libertarians, but for some entire states. For example, there has not been a single nonpartisan poll taken in South Dakota’s gubernatorial race. Not one! It’s already bad enough that outfits such as Emerson College don’t even include Libertarians who have polled as high as seven percent in totally toss-up races.

Click here to read Welch’s full analysis at Reason’s Hit & Run blog, where you can also watch an interview by John Stossel of New York Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe.


Learn more about these gubernatorial candidates at their campaign websites:

The Libertarian Party is running 23 candidates for governor on Nov. 6 ballots, including Anderson, Lord, Welter, Irvine, and Sharpe. Learn more about our 800+ candidates nationwide, at LP.org/2018-candidates.

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