How Libertarianism Works

By: Dave Roos

The Libertarian Party

The Libertarian Party, founded in 1971, is the third largest political party in the United States [source: Libertarian Party]. Given that the U.S. is effectively a two-party system, the number of Libertarian voters, candidates, and elected officials constitute a tiny fraction of the whole. The Libertarian Party claims to have more than 250,000 registered voters [source: Libertarian Party]. To put that into perspective, there are over 200 million eligible voters in the U.S. According to 2012 polls, roughly 35 percent of voters (or 70 million people) identify themselves as Democrats and another 35 percent as Republicans [source: Rasmussen Reports]. But what about the remaining 30 percent?

According to a 2006 report prepared by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, as much as 20 percent of the American electorate is libertarian in political philosophy, even if that's not reflected in the voter registration records [source: Boaz]. The report uses poll numbers from several independent organizations to chart libertarian-leaning answers to standard poll questions. But even with this sizeable chunk of the electorate, only one Libertarian Party presidential candidate has won more than 1 percent of the popular vote: Ed Clark back in 1980 [source: Boaz].


The Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 2012 is Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. To better understand how the Libertarian Party platform differs from its Republican and Democratic opponents, here's a list of libertarian positions on key political issues:

  • Economy and jobs – Reject all bailouts. Cut all unnecessary government spending. Cut regulations that slow business growth and protect special interests.
  • Taxes – Taxes should only be used to support the necessary roles of government, which are protecting lives, rights and property. Gary Johnson supports the Fair Tax system, which does away with the IRS and charges a flat 23 percent national sales tax on the purchase of all new goods and services [source:].
  • War and defense – Bring home all troops on foreign soil. Greatly reduce the size of the standing armed forces. Eliminate most international defense alliances and practice a "grand strategy of restraint."
  • Healthcare reform – Replace Medicare, Medicaid and other government-funded healthcare programs with Medical Savings Accounts, which are tax-free individual savings accounts for medical costs. Deregulate the healthcare industry and replace the FDA with a free-market alternative.
  • Social Security – Abolish Social Security in favor of private retirement investment accounts
  • Immigration – Reform immigration laws to allow for the legal entry of qualified workers who are willing to take low-wage jobs that most Americans no longer want.
  • Poverty and welfare – End the government-run welfare system, which has been proven ineffective at slowing the spread of poverty. Encourage giving to charitable community organizations that provide social welfare services. Offer a dollar-for-dollar tax deduction for charitable giving.
  • War on drugs – The Libertarian Party supports the legalization and taxation of marijuana. First, it will create a valuable cash crop for U.S. farmers and second, by taking the profit out of the illegal marijuana trade, it will reduce the power of violent cartels abroad and gangs at home.

For lots more information on political parties and presidential elections, explore the links on the next page.