For a short period of time, America’s libertarian moment was a go-to topic for political pundits in a variety of publications. Since 2016, the role of libertarians in political discourse has tended to devolve away from a relevant political demographic into a weird scapegoat for the Left and Right.
From the left, pundits - assisted by a certain clique of Beltway-dwelling libertarians—have focused on an alleged “libertarian to alt-right pipeline.” Interestingly, a group that often mocked “conspiracy theorists” in the movement suddenly found Nazis behind every speech promoting political decentralization and social cooperation.
Meanwhile, a new generation of right thought leaders, including Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon, identified libertarians and “Austrian economics” as a major driver in what they saw as a corporate takeover of American government. While both Carlson and Bannon deserve credit for helping normalize a noninterventionist foreign policy in the mainstream of Republican Party politics, their woefully misinformed attacked on Austrians actively undermines many of their own objectives. While it’s possible their choice of language was intended to target a certain group of billionaire libertarian benefactors, reading Mises, Rothbard, and Hoppe would assist both of them in properly identifying their actual enemy: fiat money and central banking.
Still, while the libertarian electorate is not as popular a topic as it once was, it could actually be a very important demographic this year. In particular, there are three states where Gary Johnson voters could flip enough delegates to give one party an electoral college victory.
The largest of these states is Nevada, with six electoral votes. Home of FreedomFest, a libertarian event and one of Donald Trump’s first official campaign events as a candidate in 2015, the state is dominated by the population centers of Las Vegas and Reno.
In 2016, Donald Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton by around 2,700 votes. Gary Johnson surpassed the difference with 37,000 voters. As was the case for the Libertarian Party as a whole, Governor Johnson’s 3 percent advantage was historically high for America’s largest third party (Johnson came in with just shy of 11,000 votes in 2012).
What makes Nevada interesting is the state’s obvious reliance on the tourism industry. While much media attention has been paid to Joe Biden’s comments about fracking and its impact on Pennsylvania workers dependent upon that industry, less attention has been paid to how tourist-dependent economies may view stark differences in covid.
Nevada’s prolockdown Democratic governor has become increasingly unpopular with independents in the state. A recent poll showed 56 percent of independents disapproving of the response. Perhaps a sign of the political unpopularity of lockdowns is decreased turnout among Democratic voters. According to TargetSmart, Democrats had 42 percent of the turnout the day before the election in 2016. In 2020, that’s dropped by 2 percent. This is particularly telling given the Biden campaign’s focus on VBM (vote by mail), which pushed dependable Democratic votes earlier into the election cycle.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas’s Clark County has seen a 2 percent increase in independent voters. The question is, Are independent voters motivated more by an anti-Trump narrative or concerns about the potential of executive action on future covid lockdowns?
If so, this could be an unexpected Trump victory.
One additional variable that could lead to an extra messy election? Nevada is a state that went to a universal vote-by-mail model, with ballots sent to every registered voter. We’ve already seen the state’s turnout surpass 2016. This is assumed to be a major advantage for Democrats, but perhaps the true “silent majority” may be more complex than pundits assume.
The most iconic libertarian state in the Union continues to be New Hampshire, which has largely remained a beacon of sanity relative to its fellow New England states during the age of covid. In 2016, some polls saw Hillary Clinton going into the election with as much as an 11 percent advantage, though Trump ended up losing by just above three thousand votes.
This year, polls have shown a consistently large lead for Joe Biden since May. Without any in-person early voting, there is little voter data that would point to a surprise outcome. Should the results play out as prognosticated, it perhaps highlights missed opportunities by the Trump administration to deliver on some of 2016’s more libertarian promises.
If Donald Trump ends up losing by fewer than New Hampshire’s four electoral votes, the defeat may be the direct result of the administration’s inability to end any of the various wars unpopular with voters. While the president has promised to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq in the near future and has paid lip service to a federal end to the war on marijuana, the lack of follow-through may have alienated many Live Free or Die state voters.
Kind tweets to Ron Paul will only go so far with proudly ideological voters.
One of the major narratives of the 2016 campaign has been President Trump’s success with Hispanic voters. While the Left often makes the mistake of seeing Hispanic voters as a homogenous voting block, significant differences exist between Hispanic populations across the country. Miami’s Cubans vote very differently from Mexicans living in Texas.
That being said, organic Spanish-language content created by Trump supporters is the closest this election cycle has seen to the meme magic of 2016. If Trump is able to improve his performance with Hispanic voters, this is one state that could become interesting—and this has become reflected in the coinciding Senate race.
In 2016, Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by just over 8 percent. The same year, Gary Johnson earned over 9 percent of voters. If we acknowledge the possibility that Jo Jorgenson lacks the same relationship with New Mexico voters that its former governor did, where might these 74,000+ voters land?
Like Nevada, New Mexico has a Democrat governor who has taken a strong government hand in the face of the coronavirus. While business owners have pushed back against some of the enforcement, the public as a whole has seemed to be more supportive of Governor Grisham’s actions.
The only potential lifeline to the Trump campaign may be the concerns about what Democrats could do to the fracking industry, which is a major economic driver in the state. Still, this looks like the least likely of the three to be in play.