Voter Voices: For Keene Libertarian, Fear of Trump Not Enough to Sway Vote

Oct 14, 2016

Steve O'Brien with his daughter, Lyla.
Credit Michael Brindley

In the weeks leading up to the election, NHPR reporters will travel throughout the state to talk with people on the ground about what’s shaping their votes.

NHPR’s Michael Brindley caught up last week with libertarian Steve O’Brien.

He’s 29 years old and was attending a campaign rally in Keene to hear from libertarian Bill Weld, presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s running mate.

  A crowd begins to form around the bandstand in Central Square, where Weld, a former Massachusetts Republican governor, is about to speak.

Among those here waiting to hear Weld is Steve O’Brien of Keene.

He’s in a t-shirt and jeans, as he holds his 1-year-old daughter Lyla.

 “And so I just want to come out and make my presence known and kind of show people that there’s more than two options that exist in our political society today.”

But as he looks around at the crowd here of a few dozen people, O’Brien can’t help but feel disappointed.

“It’s an OK turnout today. I’m actually a little bummed we don’t have a larger turnout. And I recognize that there’s a lot of fear in voting for a third party, especially in today’s climate because people just dislike both parties that are presented to us so much right now. And so I understand kind of staying away from that.”

O’Brien identifies as a libertarian; he voted for Gary Johnson four years ago and plans to do so again this year.

A restaurant manager, O’Ryan talks about his frustration with the narrative that this election is a binary choice for voters, and that anything else is a wasted vote.

“We’re a nation of so many different views and opinions and to bottle everything up and say you either fit this profile or this profile…I think everybody realizes we’re more than just those two things and it would be great to somehow break out and just have more voices heard.”

With record levels of dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates, O’Brien says he’s hopeful that break out could finally happen for his party this year.

Still, he says many of friends who were Bernie Sanders supporters are now voting for Hillary Clinton because they’re afraid of a Donald Trump presidency.

 “You know, I recognize you don’t want a Trump presidency. And that scares a lot of people, including myself. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t scare me. But I said we’re never going to incite any type of change if you don’t vote your conscience. And I know that’s been a tagline and theme, but it’s true. I mean, if all the Bernie supporters didn’t vote Hillary and they all voted for Bernie, even if they wrote him in, at least it would make some sort of ripple.”

We talk about the issues that are important to him; O’Brien says he’s passionate about property rights and limited government.

“And I recognize the need for a government; I’m not an anarchist by any means. I just believe in a limited government that protects individuals to live their lives as they so choose. That’s both socially and economically. If someone wants to marry anybody they want, they can. That shouldn’t be an issue. There shouldn’t be issues regarding social freedoms, but there shouldn’t be issues regarding economic freedoms, either.”

And while a Gary Johnson win in November may seem unlikely, O’Brien says is more people are aware of what libertarianism is after this election, that would be a step in the right direction.

“The premise and the principles behind libertarianism are really important to gain awareness of. And I think that generally speaking, most people probably don’t understand that at this time. If this opens eyes and opens doors to that, phenomenal. I would love to see that. I would like to have more of a conversation less about what those principles are, but why they’re good to have.”