A protest vote is sometimes cast under the assumption that it is best for a libertarian not to think of voting in the way that Republicans and Democrats typically do, viz. as a way of exercising control over government, but rather as a form of protest, like holding a sign at a political rally. It does not change the system directly; it is merely intended to express dissent, and perhaps pique someone's interest enough that he'll google the subject later. In such ways, public opinion is influenced.
According to this theory, it is not just the raw numbers of ballots cast or signs held that matters, but also the fact that in the course of voting (or otherwise protesting), one ends up having political conversations. Which seems like a better conversation starter — "I didn't vote" or "I voted Libertarian" — is up to each libertarian to decide for himself. The goal is not to change the system on the coming Inauguration Day, but on some day further in the future.
In 2012, U.S. Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson urged, "Cast a protest vote that counts." His campaign centered around getting 5 percent of the vote; Be the 5 Percent argues, "5% of the popular vote will grant the Libertarian Party matching campaign funds, major party status, ballot access in all 50 states, and participation in nationally televised debates with the other major parties." Actually, this is untrue; for example, in Virginia, it is necessary for a statewide candidate to get 10 percent of the vote in order to be declared a political party.
- "Video: “Be the 5 Percent”". 30 October 2012. http://www.garyjohnson2012.com/video-be-the-5-percent.
- "§ 24.2-101. Definitions.". Code of Virginia. http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+24.2-101. "'Party' or 'political party' means an organization of citizens of the Commonwealth which, at either of the two preceding statewide general elections, received at least 10 percent of the total vote cast for any statewide office filled in that election."