2000 Campaign Report

3. Media Appearances, National Campaigns,
& Membership Growth

by Harry Browne

The campaign's media appearances in the year 2000 demonstrate two very important points:

  1. The Libertarian Party's Presidential nominee can reach more people through the media than anyone else in the entire libertarian movement. The media opportunities available to the LP's Presidential nominee are simply not available to lower-level LP candidates or to representatives of other libertarian organizations.

  2. The Libertarian Party must always, always, always run and support a candidate for President.

To understand this, we need only compare the number of non-libertarians who encountered our ideas as a result of just one of my appearances on Fox TV News, C-SPAN, or the other national TV networks — with those who have learned of libertarian ideas through books, magazines, pamphlets, or policy studies.

There's no way to prove it statistically, but it seems obvious that just one of my national TV appearances brought libertarian ideas to more people than all the libertarian books, magazines, pamphlets, and policy studies combined. My hard disk contains hundreds of emails from people who had no idea there was even a libertarian movement until they saw me on television or heard me on the radio.

And the power of TV and radio was made plain to me in many other ways. For example, on October 11, I was walking through the parking lot at Wake Forest University before a campaign event. A car containing a black family moving toward me stopped when it reached me. The man driving the car said to me, "I sure hope you win." I asked, "How do you know who I am?" He said, "How could I help but know you? I see you so much on TV." He introduced me to his wife and daughter who also wished me well.

Ten minutes later I encountered another family. The mother said they listened to me every night on the Internet, and asked if I would pose for a picture with the family.

Even the smallest of the national TV shows I appeared on had an audience of a few hundred thousand people. But the combined print runs of all the written materials produced by the entire libertarian movement in one year probably don't reach an audience nearly that large.

And how much of the printed material produced last year was actually distributed? And how much was actually read? Just look around your own home. How much libertarian material is sitting in stacks, unread? Probably a lot.

More important, how much of our material actually reaches non-libertarians — the people we're trying to convert? And again, how much of it is read? I would be surprised if, in any year, more than a hundred thousand people in our target audience encounter our ideas through the printed word.

These points seem obvious to me. So it's worth repeating: in the year 2000, libertarian ideas reached more people through a single one of my appearances on national TV than were reached by all the libertarian writers (myself included) in the entire country.

Let that sink in: just one national TV appearance.

And then consider this . . .

I appeared on 143 national TV and radio shows in the year 2000. This almost certainly represents many times the national appearances made by representatives of all the other libertarian organizations combined. And each one of those appearances, all by itself, probably represented more outreach than was achieved by all the printed material produced by the entire libertarian movement during that year.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not bragging on myself here. I'm pointing out that the LP's Presidential nominee has opportunities that far surpass those available to any other libertarian candidate or organization.

And the national shows are only part of the story. I also appeared on 455 local radio & TV shows. Plus there were 173 national & local print interviews and 81 Internet interviews and articles.

(The radio interviews were done in studios, by phone in hotel rooms, by cell phone in cars or airports, and a few from home in Tennessee. The TV interviews were done in studios with the interviewers or by remote from other studios somewhere. The press interviews were done at publication offices and by phone, plus in many cases a reporter showed up at the airport or one of our campaign events to interview me.)

LOCAL CANDIDATES

Let's take a closer look at the local shows.

The LP ran 1,430 candidates in 2000. And probably half those candidates had at least one appearance on a local radio or TV show. And some very small percentage of those also did two or three additional shows. Perhaps there were 1,000 local radio or TV appearances all together. If this is a reasonable estimate, and I think it is, it means that just one candidate, the Presidential candidate, did nearly half as many local shows in 2000 as all our other candidates combined.

Again, the point is that even a bad Presidential candidate will have media opportunities that simply aren't available to any other candidate or libertarian speaker.

And this is but one reason that the Libertarian Party must always, always, always run a candidate for President — no matter how disappointing the vote totals may be in any given election.

VALUE OF THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY

But let's take this a step further.

I believe it's true that all the LP candidates together do much more public outreach — and more valuable outreach — than all other libertarian organizations combined.

The total budgets of all the libertarian think tanks, magazines, and other organizations are many times the combined budgets of the Libertarian Party and its candidates. But Libertarian candidates bring libertarian ideas to many more people — especially, and most importantly, to non-libertarians.

Think about that. The Libertarian Party and its candidates raise less money than other libertarian organizations, but they achieve more outreach. They reach more non-libertarians.

In addition, I believe the ideas spread by LP candidates are more principled, more pointed, and more specific than those spread by many other libertarian speakers. Instead of talking vaguely about freedom and government, libertarian candidates present specific libertarian solutions that show people there are better alternatives than what they're used to hearing.

I realize this is the exact opposite of what many people think. It's a common assumption that political candidates compromise their principles while non-political libertarian speakers can "tell it like it is." But I don't believe that's true.

Unlike think tanks that want to advocate political solutions they think will get a hearing from hidebound politicians on Capitol Hill, libertarian candidates are free to speak their minds. And unlike libertarian speakers and writers who easily fall prey to assorted stopgap measures, libertarian candidates are bound by the LP pledge against the initiation of force.

I don't say this to run down other libertarian organizations. I am very fond of a number of them. I believe they do good work in many ways. And I find myself relying on a great deal of research produced by the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, and other organizations.

But the truth is that the Libertarian Party is the leader in presenting pure libertarian ideas to non-libertarian Americans.

IMPORTANCE OF RUNNING A PURE LIBERTARIAN CAMPAIGN

I think this points up as well the importance of our candidates running a pure libertarian campaign.

What distinguishes us from other parties is not that we have nicer, smarter, more efficient candidates — but rather that we really do believe you should be free to live your life as you think best. And to whatever extent we compromise that basic principle, we make ourselves indistinguishable from other parties — taking away from people their only reason to join us or vote for us.

If, for example, our candidates promote a simpler, fairer, more efficient tax system, how does that spread the libertarian idea that you should be able to keep everything you earn? If we advocate a gradual weaning away from Social Security, how do we differ from Republicans — and why should anyone believe it will ever lead to significantly more freedom, since no other "incremental" approach has ever led to less government? And if a candidate hides his Libertarian affiliation, what groundwork has he laid for future candidates running with the Libertarian label?

This brings us back to my TV and radio appearances.

In all my interviews, I had the opportunity to tell Americans that there is a much better life, a much freer society available to us:

  • One in which their children and grandchildren wouldn't have to face the crushing burden of taxation that they've faced all their lives;

  • One in which they could be free of Social Security and plan a secure retirement for themselves;

  • One in which the liberties that made America unique wouldn't be tossed away on behalf of a futile Drug War;

  • One in which their children would be safe from foreign wars and terrorist attacks because their government would no longer roam the world looking for trouble.

More than anything else, I had the opportunity to show that there are far better alternatives than those being offered by the old parties. In other words, millions of Americans were able to hear that it doesn't have to be this way.

What a waste of resources it would have been if, instead, I had used those opportunities to try to show the audience that we Libertarians are as reasonable and respectable as Republicans and Democrats. In that case, what would have been the point of my running for President in the first place?

THE LP DESERVES MORE CREDIT

The Libertarian Party deserves more credit and support than it gets. It is the leading disseminator of pure libertarian ideas.

And you deserve a lot of credit, because while others are investing their money primarily in the production of pieces of paper that are read mostly by other libertarians, if they are read at all, you've invested your resources in taking our message directly to the American people — to non-libertarians.

And nothing illustrates this better than what we achieved with media coverage in the 2000 campaign.

LOCAL CANDIDATES & NATIONAL ATTENTION

But there's an additional point. Much attention has been focused on the disappointing vote total I received, but little attention has been paid to what our other candidates achieved in terms of votes.

For example, our slate of 255 U.S. House candidates received 1.7 million votes. This was the first time the congressional candidates of any third party have received more than one million votes — and it was closer to two million.

Would our congressional candidates have done so well if the Presidential campaign hadn't produced so much publicity? I don't think so. Many people who heard about the party for the first time through my campaign told me they wouldn't vote for me because they were afraid of Bush or Gore, but they'd vote the straight Libertarian ticket for all other offices. Conversely, I was greatly helped in my efforts to promote the party by the 1,429 other LP candidates across America spreading the word.

In addition, some people will contribute to — and volunteer for — Presidential campaigns but have no interest in local races, and the reverse is also true. By running candidates at all levels we maximize our resources because people can contribute to the races they care most about. This produces far better results than if the party chose a single political target and expected everyone to support that one campaign.

Some people want us to believe there's a conflict between the Presidential campaign and our local candidates — that the LP should quit running presidential candidates (or at least quit putting money into presidential campaigns) and instead focus on local races. I believe this is very short-sighted.

Both national and local campaigns are needed. The Presidential campaign provides publicity that makes local campaigns more effective — and local campaigns provide a depth and substance that make the Presidential campaign more credible.

Who would want to support a political party that ran no candidate for President? Likewise, who would want to support a party that was merely a vehicle to promote a single individual running for President?

One of the great strengths of our party is that we really are a party — and we demonstrate this by running large numbers of candidates, at all levels, year after year after year. (Our party's depth and substance are probably one of the reasons we nearly beat the much better known, better financed, and better publicized Pat Buchanan.)

No, we don't win a lot of races — but we sure reach a lot of people who had never been aware that there are better alternatives than what they keep hearing from the press and the politicians. If there are millions of libertarians in America today — and all the evidence indicates that — the thousands of LP political campaigns are a very important reason for it.

1996 vs. 2000

So how successful were we at generating media coverage in 2000 vs. 1996?

The available evidence suggests we did about the same in terms of local broadcast and print media, but vastly better in 2000 in terms of national appearances.

This was partly due to the fact that there were more national outlets in 2000 than in 1996, but mostly it was because we focused on national opportunities this time. There are only so many hours in a day, so we couldn't increase the number of local radio interviews over 1996, no matter how hard we tried. So we focused on expanding the coverage produced by the interviews. And in this we succeeded quite well.

The credit for this goes mostly to Press Secretary Jim Babka and booker Robert Brunner. In addition, Newman Associates was able to get us on some national shows that might not otherwise have been available to us. And in the final months of the campaign, when the media inquiries reach their maximum, Robert Flohr chipped in to help with the booking.

A great deal of credit also goes to grass roots activists who lobbied the national media on our behalf. A good example were all the phone calls and faxes to "Meet the Press." Thanks to you we definitely got their attention — and an interview too.

WHAT WE DID WRONG

Overall, the 2000 media effort was more successful than in 1996, but that doesn't mean we did everything right.

Our greatest regret about the 2000 campaign is not the disappointing vote total, but the fact that we didn't achieve the same membership gains we did in the 1996 campaign.

In 1996 we focused our media efforts on inquiry generation and membership recruitment. But in 2000 we instead focused on trying to break the million-vote barrier. And we let polling information delude us into believing that was possible, even though it was increasingly clear that the major party race was going to be close. We knew this could cause our support to dry up by Election Day, but we didn't pay sufficient attention to that knowledge.

Until we're large enough to be considered a legitimate force (as Perot was in 1992), and until the two-party system is no longer forcibly imposed by government, our Presidential vote totals will always be relatively insignificant. And to set goals that cannot be realistically achieved is to invite failure, disappointment, and loss of morale.

Worse still, unless you win (or achieve such a significant gain that it lays the groundwork for further gains in the future), votes are transitory; they can come and go. But new members, contributors, and volunteers are not transitory. And they are the necessary precondition to our becoming a credible force in future elections.

We ignored this obvious fact in the 2000 campaign. It should never be ignored again.

Unfortunately, it wasn't just the presidential campaign that made this mistake. The Libertarian National Committee did the same thing. Between 1994 and 1998 the national LP had an obsession for membership growth — causing the most significant growth in the party's history. But then that obsession was lost. And since 1999 membership has been shrinking.

It doesn't have to be that way. It must not be that way. We must regain our focus. There is one way — and only one way — for us to gain the power to put Libertarian ideas into practice. We must be as large or larger than the other parties. We must have enough members to . . .

  • Run candidates for every available office,

  • Fund those candidates,

  • Make Libertarian ideas known to everyone, everywhere, everyday, and

  • Have enough solid supporters that we can count on voters to stick with us on Election Day — no matter how close the race between the major parties.

No matter what ideas anyone suggests for achieving electoral success, the only thing that can make it possible to execute those ideas is a large number of supporters.

Membership growth is everything. We lost sight of that in the 2000 campaign — and we must regain our focus.

Any discussion of what the LP should be doing is somewhat pointless if it isn't tied to the matter of membership growth. We must have more supporters so we can do more things. For example, we generated more free media in 2000 than in 1996, but because we didn't focus our media appearances on inquiry generation and membership recruitment, we have less lasting benefit from it than we should.

There probably are many more people who think of themselves as libertarians now because of the media we did during the campaign — but we can't identify them, and so we can't take full advantage of their newfound interest.

THE NEW AUDIENCE

But we did learn something very important during the campaign that can be of great help in the future, as we re-focus our attention on membership growth.

The most encouraging revelation from all my 2000 media appearances was that there is an enormous group of people who respond to our message immediately and positively. Those people are the non-voters.

Whenever I was able to appear on a non-political talk show — a music, comedy, or sports broadcast — the response was dramatic. Non-political shows allowed me to talk to many people who had given up on politics — who would never dream of watching CNN or C-SPAN. Even though many of them wouldn't go out and vote (even if they agreed with me), they were now aware that there was an alternative they'd never heard of before.

For just one example, on March 31 I was on "The Big Show" with John Boy and Billy — a radio show syndicated across America. This show never discusses politics explicitly, but the hosts sometimes make anti-government remarks. Someone had called into the show and mentioned that the hosts sounded libertarian, and so they decided to interview me to see what a libertarian is.

John Boy began by asking why I wanted to be President. I replied with my usual opening: "Because I want you to be free — free to live your own life — free to raise your children by your values, not those of the politicians — free to keep every dollar you earn and spend it, save it, or give it away as you think best, not as the politicians decide." At this point Billy interrupted to say to the audience, "No more calls, please, we have ourselves a winner!"

There were many other ways I was able to see that the non-voting, "apathetic" average person was a lot more receptive to libertarian ideas than you'd gather from reading newspapers or listening to political talk shows.

For an example, on June 26 I was on the Hannity & Colmes show at the Fox News TV studio in New York. At the end of the show, each of the four men working in the studio approached me individually to say he agreed with me. The fact that two of them were black was particularly encouraging, because we hear so often that Libertarians have no appeal for blacks or the poor. In fact, blacks, whites, men, women, gays, straights, rich, poor — all of them want to be free, free from politicians trying to run their lives. They just aren't aware that anyone has a way to set them free.

Details of all these interviews and more are given in my Campaign Journal, which can be read at http://harrybrowne2000.org/journal/index.htm.

OTHER ELECTRONIC OUTREACH

I've been stressing how much more outreach LP candidates in general (and the Presidential campaign in particular) do toward non-libertarians — compared with other libertarian organizations. This is largely because we are almost the only libertarians taking advantage of electronic forms of communication. So we should note that the media interviews were in addition to the paid advertising we did.

In all, the campaign and the LP spent $650,092 on advertising, which was 25% of the $2,621,802 total we raised (including the money the LP raised specifically to advertise the Presidential campaign). That 25% is undoubtedly a higher percentage than what was spent by any other third party.

It also most likely is a more efficient achievement than for either the Republican or Democratic presidential campaign. If they hadn't received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies (involving no fund-raising or administrative costs), the percentage they spent on advertising out of the money raised voluntarily probably would have been a good deal smaller than what we spent. The money they spend on salaries and administration is astronomical. Their high-priced employees didn't go weeks without pay as our low-paid staff sometimes did.

In addition to what the campaign and the LP spent on advertising, some local Libertarian groups raised money and spent it locally to advertise the Presidential campaign.

A FINAL POINT

How could we have generated more media attention?

The only thing I can think of that would have made much of a difference is a larger LP membership. With more members we could have raised more money, done more advertising, and made ourselves a greater factor in the outcome of the election. This would have attracted more media attention. Otherwise, there's little that could have brought us more coverage.

Many armchair analysts have suggested we could have received more attention if I'd kissed babies, flipped pancakes in coffee shops, stood outside factory gates at 6a.m., or streaked through the Republican convention (which was actually suggested to me). I'm afraid all these suggestions are simply naïve.

It's important to understand how the media works. Reporters and journalists cover candidates flipping pancakes because they've been assigned to follow the candidates and cover them whatever they do.

And why were reporters assigned to follow a particular pancake-flipping candidate? Simple: because he had a lot of money to spend on his campaign — money that would make him relevant to the outcome, money that came from the large number of supporters he and his party have (and that we do not have yet), from fund-raising helped by his long-standing name recognition, or from taxpayer subsidies (taken by Bush, Gore, Nader, and Buchanan).

And why does the candidate flip pancakes or stand outside factory gates? Because the media will cover him no matter what he does. So he wants to do as many mundane and innocuous things as possible — to show up on TV without having to say anything substantive that might get him in trouble. It really is that simple.

There is no magic wand we can wave to get more media attention in the future. But the media attention will come to us if we do the hard work of recruiting a lot more members than we have today.

P.S.  Click here to see a listing of all the media events in which I participated from February 14, 2000 (the official beginning of my Presidential campaign), through Election Day, November 7.

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