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Yes, it costs a bit of money. But the return on investment is enormous if you are serious about starting a political party.

Are you serious?

Credibility, a Closer Look:

If you are running a campaign, it really helps to be covered by the media, to be invited to debates, to be listened to when you speak your message.

Welcome to the credibility bottleneck.

You are an activist for a third party. You have lots of friends and acquaintances. You are willing to work a table for your party. You do these things, yet few listen. Youíre just this guy, after all.

Something very interesting happened to me when I went from solo Libertarian Party member to officer in the party: people started listening to me more when I talked about my political ideas. But the reason they did so was that I stopped focusing on the ideas. Instead, I talked about the process of doing politics. Most people found this more interesting. And once I became interesting in the political context, people became more interested in why I was doing what I was doing.

Credibility matters even in one-on-one conversations.

Many an LP activist has complained about bias in the media, on how the media shortchanges Libertarian campaigns. They have it wrong. The media may well be biased, but that is not the reason for lack of coverage. The lack of coverage comes from the fact that few Libertarians win. If the Libertarian candidate is threatening to win, then said candidate is newsworthy, even if the reporter in question is a die-hard statist. Dangerous enemies are worth reporting, more so than powerless friends.

We have a Catch-22 situation. Such situations inspire the Bifurcation Fantasy. This can lead to very wasteful activities as I already mentioned. Before we try to jumpstart credibility, let us make sure that the second bifurcation level exists!

Suppose Harry Browne had succeeded in growing the party to 200,000 members and raised $5 million. Would this have made him a credible candidate?

For the purposes of winning an election, the answer would still be a screaming ďNO!Ē Anything less than $50 million is peanuts. $5 million might have been enough to play the spoiler, which would have generated some media attention. It may have been enough to get into the debates. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to get world attention and get the libertarian message out. Such a goal would be considered good by die-hard libertarians, but for most people, this still would not be a credible campaign.

Suppose Browne had $50 million or even more. Would this make him a credible candidate?

No. His ideas were still too far out. $50 million would have bought quite a lot of attention, but this attention would bring out the ideas he was promoting: too much liberty too fast. Important data point: Pat Buchanan had a big chunk of money from the Reform Partyís public campaign funds, was a national celebrity going in, yet was unable to achieve breakout. His vote totals were in the same league as the Libertarian candidate who had much less money. People didnít like Buchananís message.

There is no point in jump starting a car that is out of gas.

At the bare minimum a candidate or party has to have a message that is sufficiently appealing. In a three-way race, Bottleneck B needs to be open by at least 25%. (You can win some votes on pure name recognition, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts, etc.) This assumes you have massive resources.

If you donít, it is hard to raise those massive resources, since people wonder if their donations are going to be wasted.

Let us consider a more realistic scenario, where we have a third party candidate in a three-way race, and the third party candidate has less resources than the major party candidates. Overall, such a candidate lacks credibility overall, but may be credible to some. But to whom?

In a race between a liberal Democrat, a conservative Republican and a Green, the Green has credibility difficulties even if the Green has millions of dollars in a presidential contest. This is because most liberals will support the Democrat due to the lesser of two evils dilemma. The same would hold for a Libertarian who emphasizes economic issues in such a race.

Such problems hold even if the third party candidates raise half as much money as the major party candidates. (And raising even that much money is incredibly challenging, since credibility is required in order to raise money in the first place.)

I already gave solutions to this problem in Part 2:

  • Triangulate your position. Attract voters who are equally dissatisfied by both the Democratic and Republican positions.
  • Or, focus on two-way races.

Either of these options will produce a much bigger credibility boost than any conceivable jumpstart fundraising scheme.

But by themselves, these options are not sufficient. An extremely under-funded presidential candidate is still a joke no matter how well positioned. Other options present themselves including:

  1. Focus further down the ticket.
  2. Concentrate resources on a limited number of down-ticket races.
  3. Run way down the ticket where a candidate can use his own resources and contacts to support a viable campaign.

The second option is trickiest, but can produce the most exciting results. It is tricky because if the national party chooses to focus on limited campaigns cries of unfairness will result, producing dissention. In 2006 the LP came up with a very clever workaround: Candidate Tracker. Candidates were given scores based upon objectively measurable criteria. The scores were posted on the lp.org web site which helped channel funds to the more promising campaigns. The other 2006 development was Michael Badnarikís run for Congress. By running for president first, Bandarik built a fundraising list theoretically capable of funding a real congressional campaign.

But as history shows, the second option is also the most dangerous. Focus on the wrong race and precious funds (and future credibility) go down the rat hole. See the results of the Badnarik for Congress race.

The third option produces the greatest number of victories, but excitement is limited. Local campaigns tend to be more about personal qualifications and less about the big issues. Also, such campaigns are often non-partisan, so third parties do not get full credit for winning such races.

For a brand new party, even these options are unavailable. A brand new party must rely on:

  1. Blue Sky. Promises of future success, such as comes from having a well thought out business plan (This one?) or from unrealistic hype that sounds good.
  2. Voter education. A third party can perform voter education with as little as a web site.
  3. Appearance of credibility. Slick brochures vs. newsprint. Well done ads vs. Power Point presentations. Well dressed candidates. All these provide the appearance of credibility.
  4. Evidence of growth. The Crane approach.

All these hold also for established third parties as well. However, over time a third party must do more than these to remain credible.

Credibility can be measured by measuring the other two bottlenecks and comparing with vote totals. If awareness and shared beliefs with the party are independent variables, then separate polls can be used and the results multiplied together. Comparison with vote totals in the race in question can produce a very rough estimate of how many votes were lost due to lack of credibility. (The results are noisy since there are unearned protest votes and differences in GOTV efforts.)

On the other hand, if there is a correlation, then the polls need to be taken together. For example, for the last Libertarian campaign you could ask the questions:

  1. Do you think marijuana should be made legal (Bottleneck B)?
  2. [for those who answered yes] Which presidential candidate(s) supported legal marijuana? (Bottleneck A)
  3. Did you vote for Badnarik? (Bottleneck C)

With this method, you donít bother testing for awareness among those who disagree with the candidate being tested. Question 1 should probably be one of a series of questions covering the candidateís positions. To be accurate, it should include some of the more radical stances that the candidate took. You might want to add in a Question 0, on whether the respondent voted in the last election.

Such polling is imperfect at best. You might do just as well with focus group testing.

What wonít work is denying that credibility matters. All too often, third party campaigns resort to begging voters to vote their heart instead of gaming the system. This does not work!

The most ridiculous variation on this appeal that I have witnessed was a certain presidential candidate pointing out that your vote is statistically insignificant. Thus, you might as well vote to send a message. A rational voter would interpret this argument as one for staying home.

Elections are won by people who take their votes seriously, by voters who believe that their votes make a difference. Even if it is a myth, it is a very useful myth.

Once again Irony shows its wacky face. Such arguments are used by people who put in a hundred times more effort into elections than the average voter.

Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | Next

Strategic Framework for Third Political Parties
Bottlenecks to Membership
Nonlinearity and the Bifurcation Fantasy
Awareness, a Closer Look
Best Message, a Closer Look
Credibility, a Closer Look
Dedication, the Fourth Bottleneck
Bottleneck Analysis Applied to Candidates
Can Viral Marketing Work?
Conclusions
Why Third Political Parties Fail
The Constraints Third Parties must Obey to Succeed
Lessons Learned in the Libertarian Party
Starting a New Political Party from Scratch