The following is a summary of this keynote address presented by John Davis, a noted political analyst, at the Gala Banquet of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina Annual Convention April 11. The full video is well worth watching, especially for candidates, campaign managers, and any Libertarian interesting in participating in electoral politics.
A confluence of factors presents an opportunity for electoral success for Libertarians and the party should be ready to take advantage of it.
Americans are increasing frustrated by dysfunctional government caused by the polarization of the two major parties. The political middle has all but disappeared. At the same time, the make up of the American electorate has changed dramatically. The dominant voter profile is no longer an older, white male. Hispanics, Asians, women, and Millennials are becoming significant factors in most elections.
This combination of these two factors presents an opportunity for Libertarian to make a difference in elections, if they are willing to balance practical politics and ideology.
“The political middle is gone,” observed Davis. “And the same thing is happening with the American people.
For 40 years, he said, the National Journal has ranked members of Congress from most conservative to most liberal. Then they've asked the question: How many Democrats are more conservative than the most liberal Republican. How many Republicans are more liberal than the most conservative Democrat?
That was what the National Journal calls the political middle.
“Back in the day, in the Old South, all the Congressmen were Democrats and they were all conservative,” he explained, “and it was not uncommon for them to be more conservative that those liberal Republicans from New England.”
In 1982, 344 of the 435 U.S. House members were in that category. By 2013, the political middle shrank to only four U.S. House members and no Senators.
“People are in their corner, in their camps, refusing to go to the other side to hammer out a deal,” Davis said.
Gerrymandering has solidified this division, discouraging any attempt to compromise or find common ground with the other side, Davis said.
“When your district is made up of people who say, 'You'd better not be caught trying to make a deal with the other side because if you do we're going to throw you out' that's impossible,” Davis said.
He noted that 93 percent of Republicans in the U.S. House are in districts that Mitt Romney carried and 96 percent of Democrats are in districts President Obama carried.
In North Carolina, Republicans won 10 U.S House seats in 2012, and Democrats only 3. All the Democrats won by better than 75 percent. The closest Republican race was won by 12 percent.
According to a March 2015 Gallup Poll, Americans now believe that dysfunctional government is the greatest problem facing our nation, not jobs, not the economy and not even war and terrorism.
Gallup has also asked Americans to rate their satisfaction with the direction of the county. For 20 years, in every year where the rating was lowest (1980, 1992, 2008), the presidency changed hands.
In each of those years, voters expressed dissatisfaction with one of the two major parties. In other words, they voted against the incumbent party, not for the opposition.
But in 2014, that changed. After the election, when a Gallup Poll asked, “What do you want the new Congress to do,” 31 percent answered – fix yourself.
Davis said the poll results showed that Republican control of Congress does not mean voters want Republican solutions.
“Voters said, 'We're not going to get rid of these problems until you fix yourself.' That's the whole problem with the problems,” he explained. “They want Congress to listen to the people, compromise, cooperate, end gridlock – then do everything else.”
The changing composition of North Carolina voters also reflects the demographic shift across the nation. Half of Americans live in 146 or 3,144 counties. Half of North Carolina voters live in 13 of 100 counties. In both cases, these are primarily urban areas. Voter turnout in 6 of the 13 counties is greater than turnout in 77 other counties.
Not only that, but half of North Carolina voters were born outside the state, and not in the South. “North Carolina has twice as many voters who were born in New York than South Carolina,” Davis said. “Jessie Helms could not get elected now.”
The two-party dominance may also soon be eclipsed by the significant increase in unaffiliated voters. Unaffiliated voters already outnumber either Republicans or Democrats in 48 counties and are the largest group in four counties.
Then there is the fact that “Millennials,” people born between 1980 and 2000, now outnumber Baby Boomers, those born just after World War II.
Davis's conclusion is that North Carolina is fast becoming an urban dominate swing state where metropolitan voters are more moderate than conservative, more Democratic than Republican, more pro-government than anti-government, and more socially diverse and tolerant.
This is offset by suburban and rural conservatives who favor more Republicans and less government.
Keys to seizing political opportunities
Dysfunctional government and disruptive demographics contain the “keys to seizing political opportunities,” Davis said. Libertarians, or any other political group for that matter, which focuses on these factors can attain electoral success.
His first suggestion was to focus on the “Next Generation American” - Millennials. “They are more urban, younger, smarter and move diverse,” he says.
“Embrace their technology,” he urges. “Millennials are three times as likely to stay connected via text messaging and social media as Baby Boomers.”
Millennials also have different attitudes toward ownership, favoring the “sharing economy.” They are also more cost-conscious than older generations because they have less discretionary income.
Even though they “carried Obama to the White House in 2008 and 2012,” Davis says they've been drifting away from the Democratic Party. While they are social liberals, and not Republicans, half of all Millennials call themselves independents.
Davis's final advice to the Libertarian Party: Take a stand for a worthwhile cause and didn't quit until you have prevailed. Everyone of you can do that. That's the key to success in politics.