Libertarians elected Biden

Voting booths
Getty Images

If libertarians had voted for then-President Trump last year, he would have won. As close as the 2020 election was, it could have been a lot closer and far more complex — and its outcome reversed. Libertarian voters could have flipped the three closest states and sent the outcome in favor of the House of Representatives and Trump’s reelection bid. 

In less than six months most have forgotten how close last year’s election was. According to the Federal Election Committee’s (FEC) totals, Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million votes, which was 4.4 percent of the popular vote — 51.3 percent to 46.9 percent. While just 1.8 percent of the vote went to the rest of the field, because of the Electoral College role in determining who wins the presidency, that fractional difference proved decisive. 

Biden won the electoral vote 306 to 232. Again, a 74-electoral vote difference does not on the surface appear particularly close. Yet, the threshold for victory is 270, so Biden cleared that by a much narrower 36-electoral vote margin. 

Combine the popular vote’s impact on the electoral vote and the razor thin separation between Biden and Trump — and victory and defeat — becomes evident. Biden won three states, Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, by 0.7 percent of the popular vote or less. The combined separation in all three was just 42,918 votes.

Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian Party candidate from South Carolina, won 1,865,724 votes, just 1.18 percent of the total votes cast. Her campaign received minimal attention and her vote total seems equally insignificant, until its huge impact in Biden’s three closest states is seen.

Had Jorgensen’s votes in each of the three closest states gone to Trump, he would have won all three. Not only would he have won all three, Trump would have won Arizona and Georgia by multiples of the margin by which he actually lost in them — and he would have won Wisconsin by almost the same margin he actually lost it by. The point is: If his actual 2020 margins of defeat in these states proved insurmountable, his margins supplemented by libertarian votes would have proved even more so.

In Biden’s fourth closest state by popular vote percentage, Pennsylvania, libertarian votes would have left Trump just 1,175 votes short of Biden and its haul of 20 electoral votes. This surely would have set off free-for-all court battles but really these would have had no impact on the outcome. The reason is that Trump’s flipping of Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin with libertarian votes would have delivered 37 electoral votes to him — and pushed him into a 269-269 tie with Biden. 

The tie certainly seems significant, leaving the candidates deadlocked, but only until the Constitution’s method for resolving such an impasse is examined. Under the 12th Amendment, a presidential election in which no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes is decided in the House of Representatives. Yet, it is not decided based on members voting individually, which would have yielded the outcome to Biden by virtue of its Democratic majority, but by states. Under the 12th Amendment, each state delegation votes, with each state counting equally as a single vote. 

With each state deciding based on a majority of its delegates, Trump would have won 26-23, with Pennsylvania (again teetering in the balance) split. This would have been the case even if the new Congress, in which Republicans gained 12 House seats, had not been sworn in to conduct the constitutional vote. If the new Congress had been sworn in, Trump would have won 27-20, with three states split.  

If the state delegations had decided to honor their state’s popular vote for president, Trump would have prevailed under that scenario too: 28-22. Under any conceivable scenario, had the votes cast for the Libertarian candidate gone to Trump, he would have won reelection.

For over a century, third parties have been American political spoilers, most recently in 2000 when Ralph Nader pulled away enough votes from Al Gore to throw Florida and the election to George W. Bush. What is not appreciated is that this just occurred on a much larger scale.  America just missed having its most dramatic modern election, one that would have made the actual 2020 outcome pale in comparison. 

The common perception is that 2020 saw a woman have a historical impact on a presidential election for the first time. This is true; yet the woman who did so was not the woman on the Democratic ticket, Kamala Harris; it was the woman off of it, Jo Jorgensen. Libertarians may have voted for Jorgensen, but they elected Biden.

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.

Tags 2020 2020 elections Al Gore Battleground states Biden 2020 Donald Trump Jo Jorgensen Joe Biden libertarians swing states third-party candidates Trump 2020

More Campaign News

See All

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video