The Libertarian Party needs to engage in grassroots politics. It needs to address the grassroots voters. Grassroots voters are ordinary American voters and are distinct from the leadership of libertarian organizations. However, grassroots voters aren’t readers of Being Libertarian.
Readers of Being Libertarian are generally the “already converted.” They have self-identified as having a higher understanding of libertarianism, both politically and culturally, and are able to read at a higher level than the average voter. Otherwise, they are unlikely to be reading Being Libertarian. This is not a criticism of Being Libertarian but instead a recognition that Being Libertarian knows its readers.
The average grade level for American voters’ reading level is often stated to be at the seventh or eighth grade level. The same is often true of voters’ understanding of the spoken word. Libertarian Party materials often are written for people with at least some college education, and often are even written at a post-graduate level. This language cannot reach the grassroots voters, but in fact, is identifying with the already-committed voter to confirm what he or she wants to hear in an elitist language that is not accommodating. Attorneys combat this problem and often remove the “big words” when speaking before a jury or presenting an exhibit. This is not because jurors aren’t smart or don’t have common sense (most do) but, unlike attorneys, they don’t need to use big words or complex writings in their daily lives.
The internet has many easy to use “readability” programs. These programs allow the writer to place his or her text in the program, press “enter” and instantly have an analysis according to grade level of the “readability” of the text. Various “readability” programs have different methodologies, however, they are broadly consistent.
A recent post of the Libertarian Party website is titled Libertarian Party Calls for an End to All Violence. When this post was run through five different “readability” programs that were randomly chosen from Google, the post registers readability anywhere from tenth grade to twelve grade. While this is better than the college texts written by many Libertarians, the text still needs to be revised to be easier to understand and more accessible.
Another recent post of the Libertarian Party website is titled No One Should Be Above the Law. When this article was run through five different “readability” programs that were also randomly chosen from Google, the text registers readability anywhere from eleventh grade to junior year in college. This analysis clearly shows the need for revision so that average American voters, those who make up the grassroots, can more easily understand the post.
If the goal is to reach the intellectually committed, which is a much smaller group, then these posts are fine. But in that case, the grassroots voters aren’t reached.
The Libertarian Party has claimed to be a political party for a long time. Political parties run candidates of similar values and try to get voters to vote for them. However, the writing of the Libertarian Party might indicate that the Libertarian Party is not a political party because of the inaccessibility of its text. Writings of the Libertarian Party, whether from local, state or national affiliates, Libertarian candidates, officers, volunteers or “activists”, tend to be at a higher level than the reading level of the average American grassroots voter.
Therefore, it could be assumed that the Libertarian Party finds it more important to coddle the already converted base by producing intellectually written public pronouncements, which these converted party members want to hear, rather than writing in a way that the grassroots can easily understand. It could be concluded that the Libertarian Party is therefore only a political party in words, not actions. If the Libertarian Party wants to be a political party, it needs to reach the grassroots with the beautiful message of libertarianism written in a way that grassroots voters can easily understand. Until it does this, the Libertarian Party seems not to be a political party but rather, an advocacy organization.
When this article is run through five different “readability” programs that were randomly chosen from Google, it registers readability anywhere from junior to senior year in college. This is because I’m trying to reach the Libertarians doing the writing to send them this message: know the audience you’re trying to reach and write in a way they’ll understand the first time they read your writing. Your audience is grassroots voters.
* Mark W. Rutherford is the current Chair of the Libertarian National Campaign Committee and a former Vice Chair of the Libertarian National Committee. He also served as Chair of the Libertarian Party of Indiana for seven years.