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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can Dems Win Libertarian Votes?

The March issue of Campaign & Elections ezine, Politics has a freebie cover story by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. “Tuned Out: Cultural Libertarians Are A Growing Force in America. But Just How Can you Reach Them?”
Much of the article is a plug for Republican/Libertarian Ron Paul as a prototype presidential candidate of the future, without even a mention of Paul’s disturbing flirtation with white supremacist groups/ideology. But the authors do shed some light on Paul’s popularity with Libertarians, if not racist groups.
There’s also a fair amount of dubious speculation about “long-tail marketing” being the wave of the future in politics, as well as the economy. The authors cite a study of public opinion polls indicating that “15 percent of the electorate can more or less be described as Libertarian,” which doesn’t tell us much about what they actually do at the ballot box.
The merit of the article, in terms of Democratic strategy, is that it illuminates a significant ideological minority that divides its voters between Democrats, Republicans and the Libertarian Party and sheds light on what they think about a host of issues in current context. The sidebar, “7 Ways to Win Our Vote” limns current Libertarian preferences regarding online gambling; internet tax proposals; eminent domain; Iraq; immigration; medical marijuana; and health insurance. Democrats have an edge with Libertarians on most of these issues and other issues concerning personal and lifestyle freedom. Republicans will do better with Libertarians who are more focused on taxes, shrinking government and expanding unfettered trade.
It’s unclear whether the Libertarian percentage of American voters will grow in the years ahead. No doubt, Democrats can bite off a healthy chunk of the Libertarian-leaning constituency with the right kind of candidates. My guess is Obama would have a better chance than Clinton to win Libertarian votes in this cycle, although neither one satisfies the inflexible standards of free-trade ideologues. One suspects that many, if not most self-described Libertarians are not all that rigid on all their issues, so there is likely not much benefit in tailoring a strategy to win their votes.

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