How to Jump-Start a Third Party
I recently read a post comparing the UK Independence Party, which describes itself as libertarian, with the US Libertarian Party. The author pointed out that the UKIP is supported by between 7 and 14 percent of the electorate, while the LP was able to get only about one percent of the votes in the most recent presidential election, despite the facts that libertarianism is a more familiar idea in the U.S. and that the U.S. is in various ways more libertarian than the U.K.
His explanation was that the IP draws its support almost entirely from a single issue—Euroskepticism. A large fraction, possibly a majority, of the electorate is against U.K. membership in the E.U. All three of the major parties are for it. He goes on to argue that, in a world where most people are not very interested in political philosophy, what the IP is doing is the right way for a minor party to become major. Find an issue compatible with your philosophy that a sizable fraction of the population supports but the major parties oppose. Adopt that issue, identify with it, use it to recruit support. Retain the rest of your position, more or less in the background—people who join you for the single issue and have no strong beliefs of their own on the rest of the package are likely to accept it without paying very much attention to it. He offered the Republican party, whose initial issue was opposition to slavery, as a historical example in the U.S.
It seems like a plausible argument, and leads to an obvious question: What issue should the LP, or the libertarian movement more generally, try to claim? The author of the post suggested "economic justice." That strikes me as an unsatisfactory answer. Considered as a slogan, lots of people support it—but so do the major parties. Once you give substance to it, you end up with either something at least one of the major parties supports or with something that not much of the electorate supports. Are there any good alternatives?
One possibility that occurs to me is something along the lines of reducing the deficit or scaling back federal spending. Both parties say they are in favor of those things, but neither acts that way—the "fiscal cliff" that has just been avoided consisted almost entirely of increases in taxes, with reductions in expenditure estimated in one source I saw at .3% of the budget. Republican proposals for expenditure reduction are reductions in planned increases, not actual reductions, year to year, in what the federal government spends. And my guess is that, not only are proposals by both parties to reduce expenditures, or the debt, or at least the rate at which the debt is increasing, almost entirely bogus, they are perceived as bogus by a sizable fraction of the population.
In which case there might be an opportunity to build a third party around serious proposals to scale back spending and the deficit.
A second possibility is opposition to the War on Drugs. Neither party is willing to adopt that one. In its mildest version, proposals to legalize marijuana, it now appears to be supported by a majority of voters. Perhaps if the LP or some newer attempt in the same direction adopted marijuana legalization as its issue along with less radical reductions in other parts of current anti-drug policies, that would do the job.
Readers are invited to offer other suggestions.