In the U.S, there has not been much support for the Libertarian Party. Even though two of the leading candidates in the past presidential election have been considered to have too many faults to be elected, yet the majority of people don't choose third party, including the Libertarian Party.

Why does it keep failing to gain more support in presidential elections? Does it come from the lack of recognition, or something else?

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  • Are you specifically asking about the Libertarian party? A third party can only be viable when it's obvious that they are the sole challenger to the hegemony of the two established parties. Voting for a third party probably is a wasted vote. Voting for a fourth party certainly is wasted. And it's far from clear that the libertarians are that third party.
    – MSalters
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 15:14
  • Besides the two big parties, none other party gained much seats or support in the presidential election. I blame the voting system. In other countries with for example several rounds of voting or proportional systems, people vote much more often for smaller parties. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 9:32

5 Answers 5


There are a number of possible reasons, and the answer is probably a combination of all of them.

  1. Politics is tribal. Many voters have "Republican" or "Democrat" as part of their personal identity, which they often inherited from their parents. "Libertarian", less so. This can change, but it tends to be generational.

  2. As @phoog pointed out in the comments, the first past the post electoral system makes a minority party look like a "wasted" vote. Most people will only vote for you if they think you have a chance of winning, or at least of influencing policy.

  3. Most people don't agree with the Libertarian platform. The small-statism puts off Democrats, and the liberalism on sexuality and drugs puts off Republicans.

  4. The Libertarians can't bring in big donations, because political donors mostly donate out of self interest, and the Libertarians can't offer anything in return because they have no realistic chance of getting into power. Hence they can't afford all the marketing stuff that the main parties do.

  5. Anyone with real political talent and ambition will join one of the two main parties because that is the only way to get elected, leaving the minority parties with a much higher proportion of cranks and monomaniacs. This reduces the pool of talent for party leaders and increases the likelihood that the selection process will promote ideological purity over actual talent.

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    I would also add the big tent strategy used by the Republican party. The Republican party doesn't kick people out for being libertarian or anything like that. While a person probably won't get the nod for important committees or leadership positions while holding such views they are free to run for office under the Republican banner. So its not like allegiance to a party will hold an elected official back from pursuing their own interests in office. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 9:05
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    @barrycarter The issue with that is that while Americans will claim to support the abstract principles of libertarianism, when it comes to removing medicaid or police services, their pragmatism kicks in.
    – deworde
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 9:11
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    @deworde I disagree. It's more the belief they can't win against the two established parties. There is nothing non-pragmatic about libertarianism, and libertarians are not opposed to police services.
    – user2565
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:13
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    @deworde and barrycarter: I think deworde is close to right, but it is not so much pragmatism as simple greed, and barrycarter is right that police service is a poor example. The truth is, and our national debt confirms, that people like the concept of lower spending and less regulation but don't like the particulars. We should spend less? Then we'll cut funding to PBS. Oh? You want to keep Big Bird? We'll cut the NEA. Um, you artists want government fund? Um, let's do regulation then. We'll abolish the EPA. no? the FDA? no? And no matter what you choose to cut there is someone who will fuss
    – Readin
    Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 4:46
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    @Readin That is because everyone is in favour of spending on themselves and against spending on anyone else. I'd be interested to see someone try making a speech in the rural mid-west: "Reduce government spending! [cheer] Starting with farm subsidies! [Hail of rotten fruit]" Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 18:52

The first past the post voting system used in the United States greatly favors the two large, established parties, but that's not the main reason the Libertarian party can't get traction. Basically, the Libertarian party is far outside the mainstream of American political opinions.

Reason magazine, a (small-l) libertarian media outlet, covered the Libertarian Party nominating convention in May of 2016. Here is a telling quote [1]:

As the debate unfolded the questions consisted of too much historical and philosophical minutia seemingly tailor-made to make Libertarians seem hopelessly eccentric to a national audience, far too little dealing with the news and concerns of the 2016 election.

A C-SPAN audience did not need to see the five candidates pondering out loud whether drivers licenses are legitimate. (Among other challenging questions that could serve no other purpose but to embarrass the Party and its candidates in the eyes of any random cable viewer were such pressing, burning 2016 presidential campaign questions so often thrown at Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as: would you have fought World War I? II? Apologized for bombing Hiroshima? Voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Do you think drivers need to be licensed? Should it be a crime to sell heroin to 5-year-olds? I'm enough of a movement veteran that these things just flowed by me at the time, but in retrospect they seem the worst sort of hectoring irrelevances designed to make the Party's candidates seem like eccentric loons.)

The eventual nominee, Gary Johnson, was relatively mainstream, but he faced an uphill battle precisely because he rejected the crazier parts of the platform.

[Johnson] boldly and simply stated that he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which drew boos, as did his heretical opinion that drivers licenses might be a legitimate state function.

Contrary to what some other posters here have suggested, the Libertarian Party is anything but pragmatic. People don't reject it out of greed or ignorance, and libertarians who put these forward as explanations are kidding themselves. Rather, the voting public sees these antics, concludes that the Libertarian Party is infested with kooks, and heads down the road to see what the "serious" parties have on offer.

[1] http://reason.com/blog/2016/05/29/libertarian-party-presidential-debate-ga


One thing is that the Libertarian party doesn't present itself as a real party where I am. If you look at a ballot, you'll see that there's a Democrat or Republican for every partisan position. I've never seen a ballot where there was a Libertarian running for every partisan position. The effect is to imply that there are individuals running with the Libertarian label, not that there is a viable party.

Similarly, I tend to see people running as Libertarian shooting for the higher, more important, offices. This means that they tend not to have the experience and credibility. Even Jesse Ventura was a mayor before he became governor.

It's been a while since I read a Libertarian platform, but the one I did read suggested that the party would not be able to govern. Some of the positions were reasonable (not that I necessarily agreed with them), and some of them weren't. The attitude on pollution was to abolish central controls and encourage people to sue if affected by pollution. This would require massive amounts of research and filing of lawsuits to get me a totally inadequate court award, and is totally impractical while aligning with ideology.

Overall, the impression is of a party that wants to grandstand rather than govern realistically. If they delivered a complete slate of candidates, and tried to build up experience at the lower levels of government, and sounded like they were prepared in the case that they won, they'd do much better.


The biggest thing holding the Libertarian Party back is the party's willingness to compromise but its members unwillingness to accept those compromises as the best way to move forward. Most members of the LP are either slightly left leaning, or slightly right leaning very few are actually true to the "Ideal" concepts of the LP. So you end up with a candidate that has positions that at least half of the party completely disagrees with to the point that they are already want to go outside the lines to align with the LP instead of the GOP or DNC.

So the candidates put forward are in most cases only going to get the support of half of the party, and even with the DNC machine at her back, and a candidate that very few people really thought was even viable, the front runner could not win when she(and her surrogates) had turned half of the DNC Against them. How is a upstart ultra minority party going to build support when the simple act of making a choice on a candidate is going to upset half of its already small base?

The other big problem is the LP really does not make any significant attempts to make inroads for smaller offices. A base of support is built from the ground up but the LP and its supporters seem to want to build it from the top down. Even if the LP were able to find a big name, that were willing to stand in front and get elected as president, that is still just one position, where virtually everyone else in Washington will be making every effort to see that president fail because they have too much time and money invested in the status quo. So with out some serious changes the best the LP can ever hope for is to be a one hit wonder in the political realm if they can attract a candidate like Trump, that can mostly self finance, get free media attention, and attract enough people away from the major candidates. They have yet to find that candidate.


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Now just look at that picture above. Under libertarianism, the sole purpose of government is security. So sending tomahowk is okay. Welfare and healtcare is not. Is it a good idea? Probably. Would most people agree with it? May be not.

I think libertarianism is fine. I like libertarianism. However, it's too unnatural. There are many reasonable reasons why people do not like libertarianism.

Imagine if you're Kim Jong Un, would you support libertarianism? No. Why not? Because it's not to your best interest. Now think of hordes of majestic welfare parasites like Kim Jong Un. Right or wrong, people vote their interests right?

Imagine if your country is like a shop. Imagine if the citizens are stockholders.

We can see a country as a big corporation selling "protection service". That country is controlled by stockholders of the big corporations, namely the citizens.

Libertarians are like people saying shops should sell their products at cost and citizens shouldn't have power to profit from their shops. It doesn't make sense. It won't happens.

And those are pretty inconsistent. Under libertarianism, only government shops cannot profit from their shops. All other shops are fine. That's pretty strange right?

I'll give an example.

What to do with drugs?

Libertarians would say legalize it.

I saw a problem there.

Imagine if someone wants something no other shops sell. You are the only shops selling those. Of course you charge high.

Most other countries prohibit that. Why are you legalizing it for free? A moderate solution would be to tax that like hell and pay dividend to all citizens.

So basically, libertarians, are people that think governments should run like a free non profit shops. That the citizens, kings, or whoever have power, do not have right to take advantage of their power.

Libertarian are based on NAP. Why shouldn't more powerful people charge "protection money" from those they protect? Why should they protect for free or at costs? Of course powerful people would use their power to max out their profit.

Is it wrong? There is no one right answer. One thing for sure is, saying that it's wrong won't do much. Nature don't have right and wrong. Nature is just is.

Large number of citizens in any country can be more profited if their country is not fully libertarians. Or at least they think they do. Quite often they're correct. So of course they prefer more moderate solutions than libertarianism.

Welfare parasites won't get welfare if libertarian wins. Many americans won't get job if they have to compete with immigrants. Big companies will face lower margin if the world is libertarians. Currently many big companies are profited by government regulatory cartel. Most poor men won't be able to afford a hot babe if polygamy and prostitution were legal. Women would simply sell themselves to highest bidders. Ugly women will be relatively less happy than beautiful women if feminazism is gone.

The way humans' happiness works is relative happiness is more important than absolute happiness. Many people, out of envy, will vote out anything that give their co species competitors more than advantage than them.

Libertarians approach is all those are wrong/parasites/etc.

In democracy or any system, you need more than just saying wrong. You need to show them more profitable alternatives. Those more profitable alternatives may be closer to libertarianism but still more profitable to people.

For example, a political party, may, for example, promise cash dividend instead of welfare to welfare parasites with no kids. Most welfare parasites would be happy and vote for those and make less kids.

But libertarians can't see that those welfare parasites can vote. They would just say, ah, welfare is wrong, you should starve. So hordes of welfare parasites and those that fear to be on welfare too would not vote libertarians.


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