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Libertarian Presidential Candidates: Their Impact and Influence

3 min read
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Good Party Politics Team · Apr 22, 2023

The United States has experienced rapid growth in the number of people identifying themselves as libertarians. The recent presidential election, among others, has demonstrated that libertarianism is becoming increasingly influential in American politics. It can be seen in the growing success of Libertarian candidates at the federal, state, and local levels. Libertarians also enjoy much more significant support among young Americans than other generations.

Principles of Libertarianism

Libertarianism encompasses a set of principles and policy preferences that often differ significantly from the dominant conservative or progressive viewpoints that have characterized American politics for much of the twentieth century. The Libertarian Party typically holds a presidential nominating convention every four years to select its presidential candidate. Here are some of the principles of libertarianism:

1) THE NAP(Non-Aggression principle)

This principle says that people can do whatever they want if they do not physically harm others. It also follows that individuals have the right to defend themselves and their property against those who would violate the NAP.

2) Individualism

Libertarianism emphasizes the importance of individual rights and freedoms and the belief that individuals should be free to make their own choices without interference from authority.

3) Free market

Libertarians support a free market economy, where individuals can buy, sell, and trade goods and services without government intervention. They believe the free market is the most efficient way to allocate resources and create wealth.

4) Private property

Libertarians believe that individuals have the right to own property and that the authority should protect those property rights.

5) Voluntary association

Libertarians believe that individuals should be free to associate with others voluntarily, without interference from authority.

6) Peace

Libertarians generally oppose war and intervening in foreign policies. They believe peaceful trade and diplomacy are the best ways to promote international cooperation and prosperity.

History of Libertarianism

The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 by David Nolan. Since then, the party has grown significantly in both membership and influence. In 1972, Libertarian Party presidential candidate John Hospers received only one electoral vote, making him the first to receive an electoral vote outside of the Democratic or Republican parties since George Wallace in 1968. However, it was not until 1980 that a Libertarian candidate would receive more votes than a major party candidate at the Presidential level (1.06% of the vote in 1980). Ed Clark's running mate was David Koch, who is one of the co-founders of the Libertarian Party. In 1996, a financial advisor and author, Harry Browne, won the Libertarian presidential nomination. This election also marked the first time a Libertarian candidate would appear on a state ballot in all fifty states. Since then, the party has grown steadily in both membership and influence. In 2008, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr received 0.4% of the vote for the Libertarian Party nomination. This election also marked the first time that two major party presidential candidates were members of third parties (Bob Barr for the Libertarian Party and Ralph Nader as an independent).


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Notable Libertarian Presidential Candidates

The Libertarian Party has had several presidential candidates. Here are some notable Libertarian presidential candidates:

1) John Hospers

He was the first Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1972, and he received one electoral vote from Roger MacBride, who was from Virginia at the time. People have described him as the father of modern libertarianism. He is also the most prominent former member of the Republican Party to ever run for president under a Libertarian banner. He is probably best known for his argument against using violence to achieve social change, called "peaceful revolution." He believed "the government is too big and too intrusive and should be completely abolished."

2) Vermin Supreme

Vermin Supreme is an American political activist and performance artist who is perhaps best known for running for various political offices, including President of the United States, on a satirical platform that includes promises such as mandatory tooth brushing, free ponies for all Americans, and time travel research. Supreme was born in Rockport, Massachusetts, in 1961 and later attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He began his political career as a member of the Libertarian Party in the 1980s. In addition to his political activities, Supreme is also known for his performance art, which often involves wearing a rubber boot on his head and carrying a large toothbrush. While Supreme's political platform is often seen as absurd and humorous, he advocated for several progressive causes, including marriage equality, drug legalization, and animal rights.

3) Ron Paul

Ron Paul is a long-time politician and congressman in the United States. He ran for office on the libertarian presidential ticket in 1988. He was also one of the founders of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has been consistently voted as one of the most libertarian members of Congress, by both Republicans and Democrats, over his years in office. He also served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas from 1976 to 2013. He advocates limited authority, less interventionism abroad, and free-market economics.

4) Harry Browne

Browne was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 1996 and 2000. His campaign focused on ending the drug war, reducing authority regulation, and implementing a flat tax. His presidential campaign is most remembered for his opposition to the then-pending authority bailout of the financial markets during the late 2000s recession.

5) Bob Barr

He is a former Republican U.S. Representative from Georgia who now runs independently. He ran for the Libertarian Party nomination in 2008. He was a prosecutor who made over 100 drug-related arrests. He was skeptical of the Republican party's faith in military intervention. He even mentioned that he wanted to use impeachment against President Bush if he didn't bring our troops home from Iraq.

6) Gary Johnson

In 2012, he ran as the Libertarian Party nominee and received under 1% of the popular vote. He was back for another run in 2016. He is very experienced in politics because he has been governor of New Mexico and did not have a budget deficit. He was also the Republican Party chair for many years. He also received a law degree from New York University. He is considered to be a fiscal conservative and social liberal. He supports gay marriage and has advocated for marijuana legalization in the United States. He has repeatedly fought taxes and increased spending for education, and the state has experienced a very liberal tax climate.

7) Jo Jorgensen

Jo Jorgensen is a psychology professor at Clemson University and was previously the party's vice-presidential nominee in 1996. She won 27.7% of the vote at the 2012 Libertarian Convention. She was also elected vice chair of the Libertarian National Committee in 2014. She is a vocal supporter of internet freedom, free trade, and ending mass surveillance. She takes a strictly non-interventionist approach to foreign policy. She believes all Americans should have universal healthcare and education, "whether they are working or not." With Spike Cohen as her vice presidential nominee, she ran for the 2020 presidential election.

The Role of Libertarian Presidential Candidates in Elections

The Libertarian Party encourages a philosophy of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government. Libertarian presidential candidates play a unique role in elections by offering a third-party alternative to the major party candidates. However, the role of Libertarian presidential candidates can vary depending on the election and the candidates themselves. Sometimes, they may serve as a "spoiler" candidate, drawing votes away from one or both major party candidates and potentially affecting the election outcome. In other cases, they may serve as a protest vote for individuals dissatisfied with both major political party candidates. Additionally, Libertarian presidential candidates can help raise awareness of libertarian ideas and increase the visibility of the Libertarian Party. By participating in debates and campaigning nationwide, they can bring attention to issues such as reducing the size and scope of government, protecting civil liberties, and promoting free markets. However, to achieve political representation, they must get a certain percentage of votes in the presidential election.

Challenges That Libertarian Presidential Candidates Face

So far, no Libertarian presidential candidate has ever won the presidency. The consensus is that there is little chance that any Libertarian candidate will ever win in the future. It is because there are many challenges that these candidates must overcome to achieve success, which include the following:

1) Ignorance from voters

Most voters do not understand what libertarianism is. Therefore, they are still determining if they agree with it and if it would make a good platform for governance.

2) Ballot access

Many states have strict requirements for third-party candidates to appear on the ballot, such as collecting many signatures or meeting specific criteria. It can make it difficult for these candidates to access the ballot in all 50 states.

3) Public perception

They face the challenge of being seen as equal to candidates from major parties regarding credibility, qualifications, and experience. It is because they are running in a historically dominated election by candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties.

4) Campaign funding

They face the challenge of getting enough money to fund their campaign. Since they will need to be on the air to reach a mass audience, they will need a lot of funding to get their message out there.

5) Media coverage

Third-party candidates often receive less media coverage than major-party candidates, limiting their exposure and making it more challenging to get their message out. In addition, the Libertarian Party's platform is often considered too radical by some voters, making it difficult to appeal to a broader audience.

Voting Patterns and Support Base for Libertarian Presidential Candidates

When it comes to voting patterns and support base, the Libertarian Political Party has traditionally drawn support from individuals who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. This group of voters often feels disillusioned with the two major parties and their perceived lack of commitment to individual rights and limited government. In the 2020 presidential election, the Libertarian Party nominated Jo Jorgensen as its candidate. Jorgensen's campaign focused on criminal justice reform, ending the war on drugs, and reducing government spending. Despite not receiving any electoral votes, Jorgensen received nearly 1.9 million votes, roughly 1.2% of the popular vote. Their support base is concentrated in some areas of the country. For example, in the 2016 election, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received his highest vote share in western states such as New Mexico, Alaska, and Montana. Johnson also performed well in states with a strong libertarian streak, such as New Hampshire and Maine. Overall, the support base for Libertarian candidates tends to be relatively small but passionate. The party's focus on individual rights, limited government, and free-market economics tends to resonate with specific segments of the population, particularly those who feel alienated by mainstream political parties.

The Impact of Libertarian Candidates on American Politics

The role of Libertarian candidates in U.S. politics can vary significantly depending on the individual candidate and the election. Here are some of how they can impact American politics:

1) They can draw votes away from major party candidates

When the Libertarian Party participates in an election, it can draw votes away from both major parties. The reason this happens is that most Americans do not consider them to be viable candidates who can win elections. So when they run a candidate, the Libertarian Party could affect the general election results by drawing voters who would have otherwise voted for a major party candidate elsewhere.

2) They can help to raise awareness on specific issues

These presidential candidates have also helped to bring attention to issues often overlooked by the major parties. For example, most Libertarians have been vocal advocates for criminal justice reform, drug legalization, and other civil liberty issues.

3) Shaping major party platforms

The Libertarian Party has influenced the platforms of both major parties. For example, the Tea Party movement, which had many libertarian elements, helped shape the Republican Party's platform in the early 2010s. Similarly, Democratic candidates have embraced libertarian-leaning policies such as criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization in recent years.

4) Promoting third-party politics

By running for office, these candidates help raise awareness about the need for more political options beyond the major parties. They also challenge the status quo by offering voters an alternative to the political establishment. However, it's worth noting that the impact of these candidates has been limited in some ways. Furthermore, the winner-takes-all system used in most U.S. elections must often be revised for third-party candidates to win seats.

Prospects of the Libertarian Party and Its Candidates in American Politics

In recent years, the Libertarian Party has gained momentum and shows considerable potential in its prospects. This trend could continue as disillusionment with the two significant parties grows, and anti-establishment sentiment rises. There are also signs that the Republican Party could move more libertarian direction. For example, former President George W. Bush was known as a fiscal conservative and implemented several fiscally conservative policies during his presidency. In addition, former President Ronald Reagan was known for being a free-market advocate and backed many free-market policies in his two terms. These two presidents are often credited with shifting the Republican Party to the right on economic issues. The Republican Party may become more libertarian on criminal justice reform, drug legalization, fiscal conservatism, and foreign policy. This shift in the party's ideology could happen as more libertarian-leaning voters join the party and help to shape its platform.

The Broader Libertarian Movement

The libertarian movement encompasses various individuals and organizations from multiple backgrounds. Some are individuals who identify themselves as Republicans or independents. Others are libertarians who don't vote for either major party candidate in many elections. This broader libertarian movement is often characterized by its anti-establishment sentiments and desire for smaller government. It includes individuals, groups, and organizations such as the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, and the Independent Institute.

Growth of the broader libertarian movement

As libertarianism becomes more accepted as a political philosophy by the American population, it's also likely that the broader movement will continue to grow due to the desire for more individual freedom and choice. The rise of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology has also helped fuel interest in Libertarian ideas, as these technologies offer a decentralized and free-market alternative to traditional financial systems. Overall, the growth of the broader Libertarian movement is challenging to measure, as it is a decentralized and often loosely connected network of individuals and organizations. However, Libertarian ideas continue to influence political discourse and attract followers worldwide. As libertarian-leaning Americans continue to become more active in politics, this activism could lead them to create even more organizations.

Potential for Libertarian Candidates

There are several reasons why these candidates could be successful in the future: 1) Many Libertarians have experience in various fields and thus have the ability to tap into their networks of supporters . 2) Libertarian candidates tend to draw support from educated voters interested in criminal justice reform, drug legalization, and other civil liberties issues. 3) They offer an alternative to the two significant parties by challenging the status quo and promoting free-market policies. Their policies are also rooted in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.


While the potential for these candidates to change the political landscape in the United States exists, it is unlikely to happen in the short term. The two-party system is deeply entrenched, and third-party candidates need help gaining traction. However, if dissatisfaction with the major parties continues to grow, and if the Libertarian Party can build a solid grassroots movement and expand its support base, it may be able to play a more significant role in American politics in the future.


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By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.