Making headlines across the nation today was Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s narrower-than-expected victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Libertarian Robert Sarvis in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last night. McAuliffe took 48 percent of the vote, while Ken Cuccinelli trailed slightly with 45.5 percent. Given the close margin, Robert Sarvis’s modest seven percent of the vote—a strong showing for a third-party candidate—took on added meaning. Equally interesting are the groups that supported the libertarian candidate by outsized margins.
Based on exit polls, most Sarvis voters were white, with very few Hispanics and black Americans casting ballots for him. Nearly 1-in-10 (eight percent) white Virginia voters supported Sarvis. He also enjoyed strong support from younger Virginians, with 15 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 casting ballots for him. By contrast, only about four percent of voters 65 or older supported Sarvis. These results are consistent with findings from our recent 2013 American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America. Consistent with Sarvis’s stronger showings among young people and white Americans, our research showed that libertarians are primarily white and much more likely to be young. The group is almost wholly comprised of non-Hispanic white Americans (94 percent). Younger Americans also have much stronger libertarian inclinations than older Americans,. More than 6-in-10 (62 percent) libertarians fall under the age of 50, including one-quarter (25 percent) who are younger than 30. One anomaly in Tuesday’s election was the relatively even support Sarvis received from men and women (seven percent each). Our report showed that men are significantly more likely to be libertarian (10 percent) than are women (4 percent).
It may only be one election with a unique set of circumstances, but Sarvis’s performance among young voters may be reason for other libertarian candidates to be optimistic about the future.