True Measure of Libertarian Strength is Vote Totals

Most Libertarians look to voter registration numbers as a measure of the party’s strength in North Carolina. That may be a good measure of how well the party is doing, but it’s more of a measure of how poorly the old establishment parties are doing.

Libertarian registration has steadily increased since the Libertarian Party of North Carolina gained more-or-less permanent ballot status in 2008. Meanwhile, the number of unaffiliated (independent) voter registration has surpassed the number of registered Republicans as voter registration for both of the old parties steadily declines. Independents may soon become the largest voting block in North Carolina.

However, a better indication of how well Libertarians are doing are voting totals – how many North Carolinians actually vote for a Libertarian candidate. After all, the primary purpose of a political party is to get people to vote for that party’s candidates.

Many more people vote libertarian than register Libertarian.

During the years when the LPNC needed to get three percent of the vote in order to retain ballot access, their focus was on that race. The LPNC broke that barrier in 2008, the first time in NC history that any “third party” achieve this. And they did it again in 2008 and 2016.

What is even more interesting is that in every gubernatorial election since 2004, the Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor outpolled the candidate for governor. In two elections during that period, another statewide Libertarian candidate also out polled the party’s candidate for governor.

Michael Monaco ran for state Court of Appeals in 2018 and now holds the record for the highest number of Libertarian votes cast for a statewide office (167,748). He was also the first Libertarian candidate for any judicial seat. That achievement is doubly noteworthy because judicial races generally draw fewer votes than other statewide races. They are listed on the back of the ballot, and many people don’t even bother to flip their ballots over.

The 2018 election was a unique, “blue-moon election,” meaning there were no contests for president, governor or U.S. Senate to attract voters. The only statewide races were judicial races. Pundits predicted low voter turnout. But that was not the case. Voter turnout was the highest for an off-year election since 1990 (53%).

The 2016 election is still the high water mark for Libertarian votes in North Carolina. U.S. Senate candidate Sean Haugh got the highest number of Libertarian votes for a federal office (165,171 votes). That surpassed the votes for Lon Cecil got for governor (101,050), Jacki Cole earned for lieutenant governor (130,253), and Gary Johnson received for president (127,746).

The most important outcome of the 2016 election for the LPNC, however, was that for the first time in party history both the gubernatorial and presidential candidates exceeded the number of votes the party needed to retain ballot statues. And all three candidates received the highest vote totals any Libertarian has ever earned for these offices.

The number of people who vote Libertarian is more important than the number of people who register Libertarian. That holds even if you consider 10 percent of unaffiliated voters as “Libertarian.” Either way the numbers are low – but a substantially larger number of people vote Libertarian than register Libertarian.

So when asked, “How many Libertarians are there in North Carolina,” a Libertarian shouldn’t answer, “35,000 (Libertarian registration as of January 26), but “in 2018 more than 167,000 people voted Libertarian, and more and more people vote Libertarian every election.”

Beitler asked the hard questions

Mike Beitler may not have received as many votes as the polls indicated he would, but he said he’s pleased with the election results because of the campaign staff and organization he’s built.

“I am ready to turn this all over to Mike Munger,” Beitler said, referring to the party’s last gubernatorial candidate. Many state Libertarians expect Munger, a Duke University professor, will run again in 2012. Munger got nearly three percent of the vote for governor in 2008, which allowed the state Libertarian Party to remain ballot qualified.

Beitler said it’s time for the Libertarians to get past the idea of just staying on the ballot and start building an organization that runs and wins elections. He said he entered the race in order to “ask the hard questions” of the two establishment candidates.

“The establishment parties will continue to drive our country off the cliff until the American people wake up to the reality that both establishment parties will continue to serve their lobbyist corporate masters to the detriment of the American people,” Beitler said in a thank you message on his campaign blog.

“My goal was to let the voters know that there is an alternative in North Carolina to this bloated, outdated two-party system, and if what you desire is real change, then you need to do something different.”

Beitler’s vote total of 55,201, representing 2.1 percent of the vote, is the second highest for a Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate. Chris Cole garnered the Libertarian highest vote totals, 133,430 votes (3.1 percent) in the historical 2008 presidential election year. But voter turnout that year was a record-shattering 70 percent. In most elections, especially off-year elections, voter turnout in this state hovers around 43 percent.

The North Carolina Libertarian Party has fielded a candidate in every U.S. Senate race since 1996.

Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate votes

  • 2010: Mike Beitler, 55,201votes (2.1%)
  • 2008: Chris Cole, 133,430 votes (3.1%)
  • 2004: Tom Bailey, 47,743 votes (1.4%)
  • 2002: Sean Haugh, 33,807 votes (1.5%)
  • 1998: Barbara Howe, 36,963 votes (1.9%)
  • 1996: Ray Ubinger, 23,296 votes (1%)