This story was written by Mary Harrington, The Daily Iowan
After months of two-party debates, a lesser-heard voice gained attention Tuesday night as Libertarian leaders discussed election issues relevant to voters.
"You watch cable news, read the papers, and you'll always get two people squaring off in a debate," said Jeff Yager, the president of the Iowa Advocates of Liberty student organization on campus. "Anytime you introduce more voices to the equation, you are more likely to find the solution to a problem."
Speakers and attendees at the event - which included Richard Campagna, the 2004 Libertarian vice-presidential candidate, and other former Libertarian candidates and Iowa representatives - took different stances on Barack Obama, President Bush, and all things public policy.
"In a traditional, practical sense, [campaigning as a third party contender] can be horrible," Capagna said. "But if you have a good attitude, it's kind of fun to be able to actually see the absurdity of the system from the inside and share it with the public."
Registered Libertarian voters constitute just 0.08 percent of those registered in Johnson county as of Oct. 22, according to the Johnson County auditor website. More than half of those voters are between 18 to 24 years old.
The CATO Institute, a nonprofit public policy research group in Washington, D.C., found in 2006 that between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. electorate could be characterized as fiscally conservative and socially liberal - or Libertarian.
"It's frustrating, dealing with the election as it is," said University of Iowa graduate student Matt Scholten, who was active on Ron Paul's campaign during the primaries. "I just try to ignore it."
Although Libertarian numbers may be meager compared with those of Democrats and Republicans, the political affiliation seems to be catching this election cycle, according to Libertarians.
Two national college Libertarian organizations have sprung up since the summer of 2007. And Yager said more people seem to be interested in local Libertarian chapters, with membership increasing since caucus season.
"Many people did not know the word to classify what they were before, but now they are realizing, 'Oh, I guess I am sort of a Libertarian,' " said David Boaz, the executive vice president of the CATO Institute.
Although he doesn't think more people are beginning to embrace Libertarianism, he said, more people are realizing that their beliefs coincide most significantly with the political party.
"These numbers are not likely to move the vote to a third party, but this is a group of people capable of swinging an election between the two major parties," Boaz said.