At this point, I doubt that there's anyone who seriously believes that Harry Browne will be the next President of the United States. Harry has done a heroic job of presenting the Libertarian program to the American voters, but the Browne campaign has raised and spent less than 3% of the $50 million that Harry himself quite accurately estimated would be necessary to compete seriously for the Presidency.
So, if he can't beat Clone and Dolton, how well can we realistically expect him to do?
The highest vote total for a Libertarian presidential candidate to date was Ed Clark's showing of 921,000 votes in 1980 -- just over 1% of the 86.5 million votes cast that year.
Is it reasonable to expect Harry to beat that vote total? What about beating Clark's percentage showing, which will require roughly 1.1 million votes this time?
As I see it, there are two factors working in Harry's favor, and two working against him.
There's no question that the Libertarian Party enjoys a higher level of awareness and acceptance than we did 16 years ago. And the Browne campaign has been managed and directed far better than the Clark campaign was.
Another "plus" for our 1996 prospects is that the perceived spread between the two main contenders is greater than it was in 1980.
Actual results in 1996 are likely to be quite similar to those in 1980, when Reagan got 50.7% of the vote, Carter got 41.0%, Anderson got 6.6%, and the remaining candidates, including Clark, received 1.7%. But in 1980 the race was seen as close up until the very end, and today it is seen as a foregone conclusion. This may reduce voters' concern that their votes might determine the winner of the election, and thus make them more likely to vote for "message" or "protest" candidates.
Offsetting these positive factors, however, are two major disadvantages we face compared to the situation in 1980.
First and foremost is money. The Clark campaign had a budget of about $3.5 million -- two-thirds of it from Clark's running-mate, David Koch. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $6.6 million in today's money... roughly four times what the Browne campaign has been able to raise. Of course, the national LP has raised and spent approximately another $1.5 million, so it could be argued that the Browne campaign had roughly half as much spent on its behalf as the Clark campaign did.
Looking at it another way, the Clark campaign's $3.5 million was about 1/8 of the amount Reagan and Carter each received in taxpayer-funded handouts, while the Browne campaign has barely 1/50 the amount that Dolt and Clownton are getting!
Of course, the Clark campaign was incredibly inefficient, spending nearly $4 per vote received -- $7/vote in today's money. This was more than six times the cost-per-vote of the Reagan campaign, and five times the cost-per-vote of the Carter campaign. The Libertarian presidential campaigns of 1984, 1988 and 1992 had combined budgets of about $3.5 million in 1996 dollars -- roughly half of what the Clark campaign spent -- and garnered a total of 950,000 votes among them. Cost-per-vote (adjusted to 1996 dollars) ranged from just over $2 for Marrou in 1992 to about $4.50 for Ron Paul in 1988.
If the Browne campaign is to surpass Clark's vote total, with a budget of only $1.3 to $1.5 million, cost-per-vote must drop to the $1.50 range. Not impossible, but a bit of a stretch, to say the least. At $2/vote, Harry will receive 650,000 to 750,000 votes. At $2.50/vote, 520,000 to 600,000.
The other factor working against a new record-high vote total is the increased competition. Ross Perot, 1996, can be roughly equated with John Anderson, 1980, so there's no net loss for us there. But while Clark received 65% of the "other" vote in 1980, Harry Browne will do well to capture even 50% of the sliver that's left after Perot soaks up most of "anti" vote.
In 1980, Clark had no real competition besides Anderson. Today, Harry Browne is competing with three other candidates of vaguely comparable stature: John Hagelin, Howard Phillips and Ralph Nader.
Hagelin's Natural Law Party may seem "far out" to us, but they cannot be dismissed out-of-hand. They managed to get Hagelin on the ballot in 43 states, and are spending upwards of $3 million on Hagelin's campaign.
Phillips' U.S. Taxpayers Party has less money than the Browne campaign, a virtually unknown candidate, and almost no grassroots organization. But Phillips' appeal is to disgruntled social conservatives -- precisely the group most likely to defect from Dole if they see him losing in a landslide anyway.
Nader, running as the Green Party candidate, is more a gadfly than a serious contender. He refuses to spend any money, and is on the ballot in only 21 or 22 states. But he is a media darling, and could do well in those states where he is an option.
In a four-way split, I'd guess that Harry will get about 40% of the total "alternative" vote. That's likely to be about 700,000 votes, at most.
Would 700,000 votes be a disaster?
By no means! It's a major leap up from Marrou's 292,000 or even Ron Paul's 432,000. And at approximately $2/vote, this would be our best vote/dollar ratio to date.
But more important, every vote that Harry Browne gets is a vote for "the real thing". Where Clark called for a less-steeply-graduated income tax (you read that right!), Harry is calling for outright repeal of this hated tax. The Browne campaign has been far more radical than the Clark campaign ever was, and if Harry gets 75% as many votes with a campaign war-chest only 1/4 as large, that's a real triumph! A showing above 921,000 votes would just be an even greater triumph.
Add to that the explosive growth the Libertarian Party has experienced since Harry's nomination, and the fact that over 300 talk-show hosts and journalists called for his inclusion in the debates, and the picture is clear: the Browne campaign has been a great leap forward, regardless of whether or not it achieves a new record vote total.