Robert Sarvis, Virginia's Libertarian candidate, has managed to attract 13 percent of the state's voters , according to recent data. But what’s the appeal of a candidate who — most likely — will not actually win the race?
According to Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., Sarvis appeals to voters fed up with partisan bickering.
“He offers an alternative above all to two flawed candidates,” Farnsworth said. “For months the two major party campaigns have attacked each other with millions of dollars in attack ads, mainly saying that one guy is too extreme and the other guy is too sleazy to be elected governor.”
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Sarvis may also appeal to voters who dislike the GOP’s take on issues such as gay marriage and marijuana use, but do not embrace the economic policies of the Democratic Party.
“Sarvis fills a sweet spot for the growing ‘social liberal, fiscal conservative’ group of voters,” said Chad Murphy, assistant professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “Virginia is a purple state, and he likely appeals more to the average voter than either of the two major party candidates.”
In addition to providing an outlet for voters to express their dissatisfaction with the two-party system, some analysts say Sarvis’ campaign is hurting Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, and by extension, helping Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli campaign spokesman Richard Cullen recently went so far as to say that “a vote for Robert Sarvis is (a) vote for Terry McAullife.”Virginia is a purple state, and he (Sarvis) likely appeals more to the average voter than either of the two major party candidates.
McAullife is currently polling at 46 percent, while Cuccinelli trails behind at 38 percent.
But despite being Virginia’s most successful third-party candidate since 1965, Sarvis faces several challenges in his quest to change the system.
“(His) biggest challenge will be making sure that the people who support him in October actually cast ballots for him in November,” Farnsworth explained. “Normally third-party support erodes in the final weeks, as people see the races as between the two major party nominees.”
Murphy pointed out that the timing of the election is not in Sarvis’ favor.
“Off-year elections are notorious for voter fatigue, low information, and low turnout,” he said. “I think it’s remarkable how well Sarvis continues to do in the polls in the face of these challenges, and he might be even stronger if more voters were aware of what’s going on in this election.”
And while Sarvis may not win this election, Murphy tentatively suggested that his relatively-successful campaign could be a hint of things to come.
“If Washington continues down its dysfunctional path, we could see the Libertarian Party continue to grow,” he said.