CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - In 2016, Libertarian Gary Johnson earned nearly 4.5 million votes nationally in the presidential election, and since then, the party whose ticket he led has seen tremendous growth in Iowa.
Participants gather at a Libertarian caucus site in Polk County on Feb. 8, 2020. (Courtesy: Libertarian Party of Iowa)
“People should have more choices, not fewer choices,” Myra Matejka, co-chair of the Libertarian Party of Iowa, said.
Matejka said part of the party’s rise has come from people who aren’t satisfied by either of the two main parties and want to install a more hands-off government.
“There’s other ways that we can solve problems for people without necessarily getting the government involved,” Matejka said.
The party held its first-ever presidential caucus last weekend, which was attended by nearly 300 participants across 23 different sites around the state, according to party officials.
“Because we know what it takes to be a major party, we’re going to try to mirror the other major parties in a similar way just so that it’s comfortable for Iowans to get into the Libertarian Party,” Matejka said.
Libertarians claim to be the “fastest-growing party in Iowa,” and numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office back that up.
According to state registration records, the number of registered Libertarians has increased at least 84% over the last four years, a much greater increase than the percentage of new Republicans (3.0%) and new Democrats (4.9%), as well as the overall growth of all active registered voters (3.6%).
However, the overall number of registered Libertarians in the state right now, around 14,000, is still well behind both of those parties, with registered active Republicans tallying about 634,000 voters and registered active Democrats at about 615,000 voters.
“The structural organization of the U.S. makes it really hard for a third party to ever actually gain any traction,” Megan Goldberg, assistant professor of American politics at Cornell College, said.
Goldberg said the country’s political system keeps the Democratic and Republican parties strong, especially when it comes to the Electoral College.
“Even if you had something like 10 or 15% of the popular vote, you could still end up with zero electoral votes, so that’s the dynamic that makes it really hard for a third party to sort of gain any traction,” she said.
However, Goldberg said this doesn’t mean third parties can’t have an impact on American politics. She said they might find more success running candidates with their values within one of the two main parties.
“So while we probably wouldn’t see Libertarians become this viable third party, they can change the dynamics of the two parties that already exist,” Goldberg said.
Matejka said some Libertarians do see running as Democrats or Republicans as a more viable option to being elected, but for the party to grow, she’d rather see Libertarians run as Libertarians.
“We need all of the strong voices that we can within our own umbrella, and it’s a big umbrella. We can fit lots and lots of people under it,” Matejka said.
The Libertarian Party of Iowa said one of its main goals right now is to regain major party status by earning at least 2% of the general election vote in a statewide election. The party did this in the 2016 presidential election but then lost major party status after the 2018 gubernatorial election.
Matejka said she believes they can regain this status in this year’s presidential election.