WASHINGTON - As the presidential election looms, poll after poll shows Americans are yearning for a better choice than the two presumptive nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively.
The Libertarians, known for favoring small government and expansive civil liberties, are the only third party in position to secure ballot status in all 50 states.
But few Americans know what the party stands for.
Founded in 1971, the Libertarian Party offers an ideological and political alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties, in favor of reducing government involvement in all sectors, from the economy to social issues.
A Reuters poll in 2015 indicated that about 1 in 5 Americans considered themselves "somewhat libertarian" however the party has struggled to build itself into an influential political force.
In 2012, the Libertarian presidential candidate received less than 1 percent of the popular vote.
On social matters, Libertarians generally take a liberal approach, favoring same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of most, or all, drugs. The party is deeply pro-gun rights and takes a skeptical stance on any military involvement in other countries.
The party platform does not currently address the death penalty.
Many of the party's ideas are rooted in principles espoused by Ayn Rand, author of the novel Atlas Shrugged. Her idea of individual freedom defines the libertarian movement -- that self-interest trumps anything else so long as it did not mean hurting anyone else.
In fiscal matters, the Libertarians espouse unrestricted competition among financial institutions as well as the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security and income taxes.
They advocate for slashing government benefits, reducing economic regulations and implementing radical reform -- if not the outright elimination -- of the Federal Reserve.
The party's foreign policy platform is equally radical. It calls for the U.S. to “abandon its attempts to act as a policeman for a world” and maintain a military solely for the purpose of national defense. It also calls for an end to the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid of every kind.
Familiarizing Americans with its platform remains a challenge for the party. But the deep unpopularity of Trump and Clinton has raised hopes that this might be the year that the American voters pay more attention to the Libertarian Party.