Nate Silver: Looks Like Americans Are Getting More Libertarian

New York Times political number-cruncher Nate Silver has an interesting new piece up that starts like this:

Libertarianism has been touted as the wave of America's political future for many years, generally with more enthusiasm than evidence. But there are some tangible signs that Americans' attitudes are in fact moving in that direction.

Silver looks at the answers to the following two questions CNN has been polling since 1993:

Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

And what do we find?

[I]n CNN's latest version of the poll, conducted earlier this month, the libertarian response to both questions reached all-time highs. Some 63 percent of respondents said government was doing too much — up from 61 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2008 — while 50 percent said government should not favor any particular set of values, up from 44 percent in 2010 and 41 percent in 2008. [...]

[T]here have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand, to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand, that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.

The Tea Party movement also has some lineage in libertarian thinking. Although polls suggest that many people who participate in the Tea Party movement have quite socially conservative views, the movement spends little time emphasizing those positions, as compared with economic issues.

It's not hard to fathom the recent spike in both questions. On economic policy, Americans since the great NPSM of 2008 have been consistently more radical than their elected representatives, and oftentimes more radical than me. And yet that angry feedback, despite manifesting at just about every opportunity you could name, has yet to translate into anything like the course-correction Americans so clearly advocate. As for social policies, I have to imagine that those who sought social change through electing a better flavor of president are re-discovering the limitations of the top-down approach

Nick Gillespie and I, in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, insisted that we were counter-intuitively on the cusp of a "Libertarian Moment," an argument that became the partial basis of our new book
The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America (which, coincidentally, discusses Nate Silver as a modern archetype of "The Disorganization Man"). It is almost startling how different the national conversation looks 30 months later.

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  • Almanian||

    So libertarianism is on the rise, and a great libertarian epoch is just over the horizon, and around a corner, beneath the stairs, in a box, that's been padlocked, and the combination lost, and the locksmith's locked away himself, in a cage welded shut, and...

    Crap...

  • robc||

    No...no...no, the stairs are out.

    Its in the unlighted cellar in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavoratry with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'.'

  • seguin||

    And the house is somewhere in a bad neighborhood of Mogadishu.

  • ||

    Libertarianism, fusion, and flying cars are all inexorably linked. Get one, and you get the others. Otherwise, they're all just around the corner. Any day now.

  • Some of us||

    If "libertarianism" means arriving at a place of sarcasm, cynicism, defeatism and despair, then some of us have been here for quite some time.

  • ||

    You know if libertarianism gets popular some people on the uncool list will start liking it. Something tells me that that would be worse than the wilderness for some.

  • robc||

    4th comment on his site brings up Somalia. Which makes Silver's readers about 2 comments smarter than most sites.

  • wackyjack||

    I know it gets said a lot, but the level of ignorance among Times readers is staggering. But when you lead such a sheltered little life, things are going to fester.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    That particular comment is the single most recommended one yet made on that article.

    Somalia for the WIN!

  • Tman||

    Do yourself a favor and don't read any more of those comments. It's just too depressing.

    I barely made it through the first page of "recommended comments" before I had hit the straw man quadfecta - Roads, Somalia, Emergency Services, and SS/Medicare.

    BINGO! What do I win?

  • Joe M||

    Libertarianism American-style (and I rather resent that free market fundamentalists have hijacked the term libertarianism, as it means something completely different historically, or elsewhere in the world) is aspirational, a fantasy life for those who don't actually understand what government does. The unfortunate fate for all of us would be for the clueless Americans and their fantasy life to drag us along and destroy this country in their effort to weaken government, not understanding the costs associated with doing that are worse than the costs of a strong central government.

    "Worse?! How could things get any worse? Take a look around you, Ellen. We're at the threshold of hell!"

    or

    Fucking government, how does it work?

  • Boxbot||

    If the proglodytes are going to hijack the term "libertarian" now, I want "liberal" back.

  • Joe R.||

    Yeah, the accusations of terminology stealing really reinforced my belief that leftists are immune to irony.

  • robc||

    the costs associated with doing that are worse than the costs of a strong central government.

    Is Hobbes commenting from the grave?

  • Martin||

    Yes, there is a complete libertarian hate fest going on in the comment section.

  • Joe R.||

    And the guy who wrote it accuses libertarians of not understanding what the government does. Wow.

  • Sinic||

    50% think the government should promote traditional in society? WTF?

  • Fatwa Issuer||

    the government should promote traditional values in our society.

    I completely agree.

  • Brett L||

    Traditional values like Social Security, Medicare, and unionism.

  • ||

    Yes, yes, Americans are libertarian in general, but statist in the particular. And laws are made in the particular. Ergo . . . .

  • Brian E||

    Why do you hate the children?

  • NoVAHockey||

    cause they whine.

  • AlmightyJB||

    You've never heard of duct tape?

  • Casey Anthony||

    Hey, it gets the job done.

  • ||

    I do not find the graph very convincing.

    It looks very close to the "drunkard's walk" and could stagger in the other direction at any moment.

  • wackyjack||

    The history of civilization is a drunkards walk. It's the only thing that has kept us going.

  • ||

    I agree, Aresen. It seems to move upward until there is a 9/11 or an economic catastrophe, then people run towards the protective arms of Uncle Sugar.

  • Joe M||

    Tell me more about this Uncle Sugar gentlman. He sounds like a charming fellow.

  • some guy||

    We just have to smack him over the head and drag him the right way. Worked in college...

  • ||

    It looks very close to the "drunkard's walk" and could stagger in the other direction at any moment.

    That graph has a more statistically significant rise then global warming does.

  • ||

    All people are libertarians (in fact, anarchists) when it comes to themselves. It's when it comes to other people that that changes drastically.

    If they want to do this poll right, they need to ask the questions not in the abstract "should the government do...", but in the "should the icky heroin user be allowed to..."

    Then we'll see the real "trends".

  • robc||

    The article pointed out that the icky marijuana users and the icky gays are getting more support.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Exactly. People are too big of assholes to allow others the latitude they demand for themselves. We want limited government BUT the government has to "do something" about those other people. It's for the children.

  • flye||

    So you watched the Miss USA pageant too I see.

    A lot of the final questions were of that ilk -- should marijuana be legalized, should burning of the koran be outlawed, etc. -- and "we need to protect the children" was the main thrust of the answers.

  • Jersey Patriot||

    This actually isn't true. One of my classmates posts Facebook crap on April 15 about being proud to pay for her soldiers, firefighters, cops, etc. She really does appear to enjoy paying taxes to some extent, and to believe they are doing something worthwhile. Goofy liberal, but at least she's internalized what her ideas actually require.

  • ||

    You miss my point. If she wants to pay for that crap, then her paying taxes is practically voluntary.

    Regardless, ask her this question some time: if there were a national lottery in which the winners did not have to pay taxes that year, or possibly forever, and she won, would she still pay her taxes? If a person says "yes" and they aren't a millionaire (or better), they are lying.

    That question is the perfect way to express my sentiment above. If they won that lottery, and everyone else still had to pay but they didn't (so that all those things they love would still get paid for), they wouldn't pay the taxes.

  • Mr Whipple||

    That reminds me of the time my Grandmother won the church lottery (I forget what they called it), she donated the money she won back to the church.

  • ||

    This comment singlehandedly ruined my day.

  • Joe M||

    My maternal grandparents had eight children, and were extremely religious. Their will gave 2% of their estate to each child, and the remaining 84% went to their church and a Catholic charity. For some perspective, my mother got about ~$8k, I believe. I found this quite depressing/infuriating. She could've finished paying off her house and be retired already if they'd just divided the estate into eighths of ~$50k. Instead, they left (at least some of) their children in debt and working longer than they should.

  • ||

    Maybe the kids should have found a nicer non denominational old age home?

  • Joe M||

    Both grandparents lived in the same house they'd lived in since the 1950s until they died. They had paid caretakers living with them.

  • Joe R.||

    Actually, I think a lot of my liberal friends would say that yes, they would. Whether they would or not if it really happened is another question.

  • np||

    lol, the usual "freedom for me and not for thee"

    But wrt the graph, the trend seems to be on the economic side and not so much the social side since that's basically back to where it was in 2006!

    The irony is that the social side is pragmatically and rationally much easier to change than the economic side but somehow harder to accept.

    Furthermore I'm always a bit skeptical of the sampling especially when they aren't tracking the same people to conclude a shift in attitudes, as if implying the same group of people changed their minds.

  • AlmightyJB||

    While it may well be on the economic side because people see the out of control spending vis TARP, Stimulus, etc. I bet dollars to donuts most of those same people don't believe in any meaningful entitlement reforms, certainly not when you get to where the rubber meets the road.

  • Sparky||

    You know, I had a similar idea earlier. Everyone wants to help the poor but when it comes time to finally do it, the people who scream loudest about helping pull a NIMBY. They want the poor to be helped, just not in a park near their house.

    I believe that is why so many liberals want forced charity. They can feel good about their money going to help the poor without actually having to think about poor people. Because poor people are gross and stuff. They believe that if nobody was forced to help then nobody would because if they weren't forced then they wouldn't.

  • ||

    "should the icky heroin user be allowed to..."

    People are relatively benign towards drunks.

    It is not beyond reason that junkies could be given similar social and economic liberties.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

    I wonder what the responses would be like if they asked whether government should promote progressive values.

  • Mr Whipple||

    The problem with libertarianism is that it is dependent upon people taking responsibility for their actions, an ethos is antithetical to the American culture. We have developed an entire legal system solely for the prevention of responsible actions.

    Whoa. Somebody take the spike out of my head.

  • ||

    From the comments to linked article:

    When libertarians say they want the smallest government possible, do they then want to do away with all the protections that have been put into place over the years? Protections such as the FDA, medical protections, and would they also prefer that the government keep out of any helping of people when there are floods, fires etc that devastate communities?

    Yes.

    Exactly HOW much LESS government do they specifically want. It seems to me that if they wanted more government intervention after 9/11, then they are not always for small government. When fires and floods occur, do they not look to the government for help? Wasn't the governor of Texas recently complaining that Texas wasn't getting as much attention as the states where fires were consuming half their land, and wasn't this the same governor who prefers no government interference except when he needs it even to suggesting Texas should remove itself from the Union?

    Good to know the governor of Texas is a Libertarian. We're really making headway.

    What, exactly, is a "libertarian" anyway?

    At least the writer admits here that his idea of libertarianism is more a specter in his head than something based in reality.

  • Fred||

    Government should not favor any particular values?

    Justice? Freedom? Fairness? These values are none of the government's business?

    The Bill of Rights is nothing if not a statement of values.

  • Joe M||

    As for those values, the only winning move for the government is not to play.

  • ||

    Freedom is the only value that government should support, but government's idea of "support" is antithetical to the idea of Freedom. And the Bill of Rights was a mistake; It merely gave the authoritarians the idea that the Constitution limited peoples' rights rather than government's powers.

  • Mr Whipple||

    The Bill of Rights is nothing if not a statement of values.

    All value is subjective, based on diminishing marginal utility. Considering how many of "our" rights have been eroded, that would make the ones that are left extremely valuable, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Perhaps Carl Menger was wrong.

    [/sarcasm]

  • West Texas||

    Speaking of "laws made in the particular..."

    “I support measures that make our roads safer for everyone,” he continued, “but House Bill 242 is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

    Micromanage?

    Is the state micromanaging adults’ behavior by banning open containers of alcohol in a car? How about when it requires everyone in a vehicle to wear seat restraints? One might argue, for heaven’s sake, that the state micromanages adults’ driving behavior by setting speed limits on our roads and highways.


    Surely the people who wrote this drivel were drunk and gave each other high-fives when they found out that this dissonant nonsense was actually going to get published.

  • West Texas||

    Speaking of "laws made in the particular..."

    “I support measures that make our roads safer for everyone,” he continued, “but House Bill 242 is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

    Micromanage?

    Is the state micromanaging adults’ behavior by banning open containers of alcohol in a car? How about when it requires everyone in a vehicle to wear seat restraints? One might argue, for heaven’s sake, that the state micromanages adults’ driving behavior by setting speed limits on our roads and highways.


    Surely the people who wrote this drivel were drunk and gave each other high-fives when they found out that this dissonant nonsense was actually going to get published.

  • ||

    Were you drunk when you double posted? There ought to be a law...

  • Next Year's Poll||

    Some people think tradition should value government promotions in our society. Others think the government should not particularize any valued set of favors. Which comes closer to your own view?

  • GILMORE||

    Awesome

    Now can someone please share this with that douchehat @ Slate magazine who wrote this http://www.slate.com/id/2297019/
    ... agonizingly overwrough tut-tutting of bob nozick & libertarianism in general, and then deliver a nut-punch as coup de gras? please? Who pays you guys anyway?!

    Ok, yeah my subscription expired just recently. If someone eviscerates Metcalf suitably I will re-up ASAP... promise!

  • ||

    Wow. That was made of fail. Bleating over how terribly, terribly uncouth actual self-ownership is? Check.

    Assuming everyone is as racist as your white ass (if you think Wilt Chamberlain deserves to keep money he earned, it's because you feel sorry for black people)? Check.

    Deliberately using "she" as the neutral pronoun ("Nozick asks the reader to consult her own preference, and choose a society patterned in any way she sees fit")? Check. That one is really just moderately annoying, but a fine example of what a posturing, condescending shithead he is. See, womenfolk, I recognize that you have political opinions so fucking much that I will add this awkward and unnecessary shout-out to your ladyness! Shut the fuck up, Metcalf.

  • GILMORE||

    The one that made me want to rape him with a wire brush was the bit about libertarianism being a "abdignation of concience" (my words, not his - paraphrasing his purple-prose BS)... that somehow libertarianism is Ultimate Selfishness, and that alone; that it is a rejection of any social responsibility, etc. Like demanding liberty for EVERYONE is somehow driven purely by greed and egotism.

    Two other areas that made me want to belt-sand his scrotum were the Wilt Chamberlin racism-insinuations and his assertion of Nozick's "rejection of libertarianism" by citing ONE SENTENCE the guy once spoke. Which of course amounts to a complete and total rejection of all classical liberal thinking since the @(#* Greeks.

    Actually, pretty much everything in his piece made me want to tie the guy in a bag full of starving rats.

    Of course, don't read that as me having any dearth of fellow-feeling for mankind in general...

    The only small upside is that the majority of comments there @ Slate were tearing Metcalf multiple new excretive orifi. Didn't expect that. Many smart people popped up in the comments section. Apparently Nozick still inspires some, despite his alleged late-life recant...

  • GILMORE||

    Oh.. the other thing was he was like, "libertarianism didnt even exist between the depression and the 70s" = I mean, does Barry Goldwater count at all? The guy seems to argue that somehow popular appeal and/or party-institutionalization is what makes ideas legitimate. It seems like the intellectual equivilent of a bratty teenage bitch going: "You're ugly and no one likes you!"

  • Joe M||

    That's Metcalf, the same idiot we trashed yesterday.

  • GILMORE||

    Yeah, that's what hipped me to it. But I think Reason needs to step up with a formal Ass-Whooping at the very least.

  • GILMORE||

    p.s. I think the appropriate reaction to this news from any Reason reader is the following =

    Pfft. I was into it way before it was 'cool'

  • mr simple||

    "Don't act like you know libertarianism. I saw Rothbard with like 5 other people in some hole-in-the-wall auditorium. I wrote in Ron Paul for president before he had ever run. I've stapled copies of Reason together with Lanny Friedlander in his dormroom. Stupid kids."

  • Brett L||

    But most importantly, when did you first hear Rush?

  • GILMORE||

    "Name 5 Libertarian Writers! I dare you!!"

    (being a play on the old, but always classic =

    "Name 5 Greatful Dead songs... See! Those are all on the same album you square. I can name ever (!@#)$* set list in order, by date, since 1972..."

  • Joe R.||

    I assume you mean American Beauty, which actually does have some great songs.

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    [T]here have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand, to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand, that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.

    Now, just ask them how they feel about open borders.

    Hoo-ya!

  • GILMORE||

    Thats actually pretty funny.

    You can pretty much get anyone to admit to libertarian generalities if you start off with the 'economically conservative, socially liberal' premise = that is, until you get to the *actual details* of what sorts of policies this actually implies...

    e.g. Open Borders being something like a dealbreaker for people all over the political spectrum; the "they takin the jobses!! using the welfare!!"-meme has not yet run its course and joined Lou Dobbs soul in limbo.

    yeah, *thanks* STE, for reminding us this sorta-good-news is actually meaningless in context....

  • jacob||

    Open borders is a winner among progressives

    NTTAWWT

  • roystgnr||

    The economic question's phrasing doesn't parse as "are you economically libertarian", just "are you more economically libertarian than the government". In context, it's likely that the public is getting less libertarian, just not nearly as fast as their elected representatives are.

  • AlmightyJB||

    At this point in the game if we could get the government to commit to ONLY providing for Natioanl Defense, Law Enforcement, and Fire Fighting, and cutting everything else, I'd take that deal in a heartbeat.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That was supposed to be a reply to:

    Jersey Patriot|6.21.11 @ 11:09AM|#

    and I wasn't even on my Android.

  • Jack||

    Oh dear. This is the highest recommended comment on that article:

    They want Social Security when they are old. They want hazard condition help when there is a wild fire, hurricane, tornado, etc. They want cell service for their phone. They want equality when they are discriminated against. And finally, they want the airlines to run on time and land safely.

    My god, they're right, it's impossible to plan for retirement, operate rescue and aid organizations, run telecommunications companies, and fly planes without government!

  • Brian E||

    If the airlines had never been deregulated by Carter, these people would be accusing deregulation supporters today of wanting to see children die in horrific plane crashes just to satisfy our need for less government.

  • ||

    They want Social Security when they are old.

    No, I want a comfortable retirement when I'm old. Social Security ain't gonna provide that.

    They want hazard condition help when there is a wild fire, hurricane, tornado, etc.

    You bet I will. And most of what I might actually get will be privately sourced. Red Cross? Volunteers?

    They want cell service for their phone.

    Which is currently provided by a private company.

    They want equality when they are discriminated against.

    Actually, I don't. I want financial independence, so that it doesn't matter if some taintlicker doesn't like my looks.

    And finally, they want the airlines to run on time and land safely.

    Just as much as I want to get on an airplane without getting groped and having my shit stolen. By the government.

  • WarrenT||

    How many of these folks are just answering that way because they finally noticed government interfering in something that they want to remain (mostly) free but would be just fine rolling back government to the point where they no longer notice?

  • gargoyle||

    And yet that angry feedback, despite manifesting at just about every opportunity you could name, has yet to translate into anything like the course-correction Americans so clearly advocate.

    Yeah.

    See, the American people, their heart is in the right place. The graph shows it. It's just that democracy stuff getting in the way.

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