Key tenets of the Libertarian Party platform include the following:
Libertarians reject the commonly held "right vs. left" description of political positions. Instead, Libertarians refer people to the Nolan chart[?] to communicate their perception of political orientation (however, see "Libertarians: left or right?" below).
Within the larger framework of libertarian politics, the Libertarian Party's platform falls roughly in the realm of free market minarchism. The party advocates limiting the government as much as possible, within the framework of the United States Constitution. There is some internal disagreement about this platform, and not all the party's supporters advocate its complete implementation, but most think that the USA would benefit from some of the Libertarian Party's proposed changes. On the other hand, some Libertarians are actually anarcho-capitalists who view minarchy as a first step towards the abolition of government.
The Libertarian Party portrays itself as the third largest party in the United States. It justifies its claim with several facts, including the following:
Evidence opposing the view that the Libertarian Party is the third largest include:
Members of the Libertarian Party often complain that the U.S. electoral system is biased against third parties, an opinion they share with many other political parties. Due to the Republican Party's tendency to borrow libertarian ideas (see Libertarians: Left or Right? below), many of these people have left the party to pursue election under the Republican banner. Ron Paul, for example, was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas by using this tactic. The Republican Liberty Caucus[?] is an entire organization of such "liberty-minded" voters.
Despite their difficulties winning elections to high offices, however, Libertarians have been credited with helping to defeat both Democrat and Republican candidates, a charge they do not dispute. For example, Libertarian U.S. Senate candidates polled 3, 21, 29, and 6 times the margin of victory in Georgia (1992), Nevada (1998), Washington (2000), and South Dakota (2002), respectively. In these elections, one Democrat (in Georgia) and three Republicans (in the other states) were defeated. Critics contend, however, that to credit the Libertarians with this outcome, one must believe that Libertarian voters would probably have turned the election over to the loser, rather than staying home or increasing the margin of victory. In fact, a Libertarian Party press release of January 2003 admitted that "in the past, the LP's use of the 'spoiler effect' has been essentially random, and often unintentional", and that only in 2002 did they make a concerted effort to play "spoiler" in elections. Party leaders have expressed their intention to pursue this effect more fully in future elections, however.
Libertarians often assert that their political positions transcend the left or right taxonomy. In fact, the stated platform of the Libertarian Party does differ from positions held by both traditional "left" and "right" movements in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike traditional "left" parties, Libertarians favor unregulated, laissez-faire markets; unlike traditional "right" parties, Libertarians favor legalization of drugs and strong civil liberties. Furthermore, Libertarians disagree substantially with both the Democratic and Republican parties, which respectively purport to represent the center-left and center-right in U.S. politics.
However, the party has historically had more influence on and closer ties with the Republican Party. For example, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed to be influenced by Libertarian principles, and was praised by many Libertarians for attempting to shrink government. The tendency of the American right to co-opt the language and social critiques of Libertarians with regard to market deregulation (for example, the frequent citing of studies by the Cato Institute) only further cements the image of Libertarians as right-wingers. Critics also contend that Libertarian campaigns against Democrats tend to be more frequent and more energetic than their campaigns against Republicans. In a 2002 South Dakota election for Senate, for example, Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans[?] suspended his campaign a week before Election Day and urged voters to support Republican candidate John Thune[?].
On the other hand, Democrats come closer than Republicans to the Libertarian position on civil rights. For example, the Republicans installed John Ashcroft as Attorney General in 2001; Ashcroft was widely held to advocate massive curtailments of civil liberties, a view that only gained currency with his actions following the USA PATRIOT Act's passage. The Libertarian Party has sharply attacked these curtailments of civil liberties. The party has also actively pressed for the repealment of drug laws, a position that puts them at odds with the Republican Party.
Conservative and liberal pundits cannot seem to agree how to place the Libertarian Party, either. Prominent conservative Ann Coulter has accused the Libertarians of being a single-issue party because she disagrees with them on the Drug War, while others accuse Libertarians of focusing predominantly on issues of market regulation. Whether the Libertarian defense of social freedom makes them more a left-wing party or their defense of economic freedom makes them more a right-wing party or whether, as Libertarians say, their comprehensive defense of freedom transcends the right/left taxomony, depends on the observer's point of view.