Tracking the Libertarian Voter

|

The Cato Institute declares in its new policy analysis, "The Libertarian Vote," by Cato vice president David Boaz and America's Future Foundation executive director David Kirby, that the Republican Party seems to be losing the libertarian vote:

[P]olls find that some 10 to 20 percent of voting-age Americans are libertarian, tending to agree with conservatives on economic issues and with liberals on personal freedom. The Gallup Governance Survey consistently finds about 20 percent of respondents giving libertarian answers to a two-question screen.

Our own data analysis is stricter. We find 9 to 13 percent libertarians in the Gallup surveys, 14 percent in the Pew Research Center Typology Survey, and 13 percent in the American National Election Studies, generally regarded as the best source of public opinion data.

For those on the trail of the elusive swing voter, it may be most notable that the libertarian vote shifted sharply in 2004. Libertarians preferred George W. Bush over Al Gore by 72 to 20 percent, but Bush's margin dropped in 2004 to 59-38 over John Kerry. Congressional voting showed a similar swing from 2002 to 2004. Libertarians apparently became disillusioned with Republican overspending, social intolerance, civil liberties infringements, and the floundering war in Iraq. If that trend continues into 2006 and 2008, Republicans will lose elections they would otherwise win.

Not that this means the "Libertarian Democrat" is necessarily on the march either, as Nick Gillespie explained over at Cato's webzine.

Advertisement

NEXT: UFO Cult's Pleasure Hospital: Come for the Clitoral Restoration, Stay for the Anal Probe

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Perhaps many of us are children of the 80’s and 90’s. We’ve never experienced true economic hardship or floundered under oppressive business regulation. It is very easy to be a Democratic libertarian (contrary to Nick’s state of denial) when government regulation never kept you from eating. Our whole lives we’ve seen the GOP as the socially intolerant warhawk pricks who talk about free markets except when it suits them to regulate. The Dems haven’t really been in power much, and when Clinton was president, the country had the very prosperity that the GOP said couldn’t happen under the regulatory regime supposedly advanced by Democrats. Plus, I come from the South where the Democrats aren’t annoying whiners. When I become an intolerant old man, perhaps then I’ll switch to the GOP, i.e., when it makes sense.

  2. Lamar,

    But when you’ve become an old man, you’ll want those nice juicy social security checks you’ve ostensibly been paying for all your working life!! πŸ™‚

    (To those who would quibble that you pay for others’ social security, not your own, please not my use of the word, “ostensibly”…)

  3. Even libertines can’t swing like libertarians can, eh?

  4. …tending to agree with conservatives on economic issues and with liberals on personal freedom.

    Interesting that this is, in fact, a materr of perception.

    Andre Marrou pointed out years ago that once elected conservatives vote liberal and liberals vote conservative.

  5. Perhaps that is the difference. I was born in 1947, and well remember the years when Democrats were stifling economic opportunity right, left, and center. I watched their regulatory approach create the worst excesses of big business, at the expense of innovation and the free market.

  6. Fyodor:
    Good point. Doesn’t quite smart so much because I don’t go hungry, but it sure is bullshit. I hope I didn’t imply that the Dems are perfect.

  7. Nice neat little packages are the white stuff of mass marketers, mass media, and Mass Political Parties. There are many libertarian Democrats, libertarian Republicans, and even libertarian Libertarians. There aren’t many Republican libertarians or Democratic libertarians, though, because when the Parties come first in the description, you can be sure the describer snorts the Party lines first.

  8. Lamar describes me very accurately. The barriers to free trade I see supported (often by republicans as well, at least in speeches) simply aren’t that scary compared to the barriers to free speech and free exercise of other rights that I see supported.

    And anyone who came of age politically around 1997 will find it hard to believe that the Democrats are the party of big government and prurience. (Plus, counting the attacks in Europe, there have been as many big terrorist attacks post-9/11 as pre-9/11 since I’ve been paying attention, so the only way I feel “safer” because of Bush is because the terrorists’ target has widened).

    A resurgence of silly regulations, combined with political alignment shifts that make it possible to vote any way but against the Evangelicals, and my voting patterns will change as well.

  9. Sorry about the old man comment. I really just meant to say that the GOP is easily perceived as the party of intolerance. Old men have nothing to do with it, except of course, for the O’Reilly Factor.

  10. Larry

    I was born in 1947 too. And my recollection is that the Republicans for the most part did the same thing. Think Richard Nixon.

    The Republicans as a party of advocates of Free-market principle was slow to develop. Goldwater may have won the nomination in ’64 but it was over intense opposition from the Rockefeller wing (which was indistinguishable from the Dems of the day and deserted in droves to vote for LBJ).

    Until some time during the Carter administration everyone believed in economic intervention. In fact, an awful lot of people saw communism as a equally valid competing alternative economic system.

    Republicans opposed JFK’s tax cuts as fiscally irresponsible. Airline deregulation was quarterbacked by Teddy Kennedy and Energy markets were partially deregulated under Carter*.

    *Apparently they still needed some “supervision”.

  11. LarryA: I wonder if there is another factor at work here regarding libertarians and Republicans. Until the past few years, the perceived threat presented by Republican pandering to the religious right and the infringement of privacy and civil liberties was pretty low, since it wasn’t being translated into actual policy, or if it was, it didn’t affect enough people directly to matter. The impact of regulation of business and of taxation in general has simply been a lot more tangible to many people, particularly libertarians. Still, I suspect that the principal reason for libertarian defections is the failure of the Republican controlled Congress to rein-in spending.

  12. 13%? Cato is selling itself short. The methodology is too stringent.

    If you look at pages 8-11 or so, you see some of the questions from Pew and others that Cato used to arrive at their 13% of the electorate being libertarian.
    I think the questioning is too tight and almost begs an average person to choose the opposite answer from libertarian because the non-libertarian answer is often more vague and encompasses more opinions OR the questions themselves do not allow for much overlap and force the person to choose between two black and white choices.
    For example (just one of several):
    page 10 right side near bottom:
    Choose:
    “Govt, is almost always wasteful and inefficient”
    OR
    “Govt. often does a better job than people give it credit for”
    Firstly, my honest answer is equally YES to both statements. Secondly, the questioning is more inviting to the second choice IMO. I think it’s easier for almost any person, by human nature, to choose the latter because it’s more broad and lenient.
    I could easily enhance the likelyhood of the libertarian answer by reversing the tone:

    “Govt, is often more wasteful and inefficient than people acknowledge”
    or
    “Govt. almost always does a better job than people give it credit for”

    With a minor change is tone, I’ve just dramatically increased the chances of getting the libertarian answer from someone. I shifted the absolute onto the non-libertarian which will decrease its chances of being picked.

  13. Over thirty years ago, libertarian disgust with the GOP led to the formation of the Libertarian Party. For all the libertarians who reflexively scoff at us Libertarians, I blame you for the past thirty years. I won’t even contest the charge that the LP is an embarrassing joke. Who’s to blame for that? The handful of nuts that participate in it, or perhaps it’s the libertarians who’d rather blow a Republican (and always believe em when they say, “I love you too”) than get in bed with the LP.

    If you think the LP is broke, what are you doing to fix it? Anyone with the will to do so can rise to leadership. Show up at the next local chapter meeting and announce your intention to run for Chairman, I’d give even money that you are elected on the spot (of course you’ll have to wait 3 months to for it to become official as the obligatory Robert’s Rules of Order zealot will explain in minutia).

    OK, I can see parallels between this post and my pickup lines. Let me sum up;
    The GOP is not our friend and never will be our friend
    The Democrats are not our friend and never will be
    The LP is our friend, strong leadership and a handful of cash is all that’s needed to turn it into a credible force in American politics.

  14. Warren,
    The LP may be our friend, but the new Center for a Stateless Society is willing to have sex with us.

  15. Right, Warren. Then you can try explaining to the electorate how they won’t be getting any more heaping platefuls of that tasty pork. Let us know how that works out.

  16. Warren,

    Hey, I vote Libertarian quite often. I just haven’t joined the party. I am a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus, so I suffer the same ostracism as an LP member, just on a smaller scale πŸ™‚

  17. Lamar describes me very accurately. The barriers to free trade I see supported (often by republicans as well, at least in speeches) simply aren’t that scary compared to the barriers to free speech and free exercise of other rights that I see supported.

    Who are these democrats you speak of who support free-speech, and personal freedom? I came of age in the era of political correct censorship, “hate speech laws”, campaign finance laws, gun control laws, media regulation, emminent domain abuse, etc. I came of age in which Tipper Gores, Hillary Clintons, and Joe Lieberman are the biggest advocates of government-forced family values censorship around. I came of age in which democrats are the leading force in smoking bans, alcohol prohibition, health nannyism, etc.

    Are there any democrats who haven’t shown the utmost contempt for, and absolute commitment to destroying personal freedom? Is there a democratic candidate who even goes as far to hide their utter and universal contempt for personal freedom?

    If the Republicans have become the part of big government, the democrats have become the party against personal freedom.

  18. I see a lot of Democrats/liberals wanting to tell us what to eat, how to speak, how to spend our money, etc as elitist assholes who don’t think your “average” person can make their own rational decisions. I may agree with this at times, but I don’t consider myself an elitist asshole because I still believe that, morally, it is better to allow people to make their own decisions than to force them to do something. I also frimly believe that the only way people, individually, and humans, collectively, will evolve, is by making their own decisions, right or wrong, and taking responsibility for them.

    On the other side, we’ve got Republicans/conservatives who want to tell me who I can screw, and, well, not a whole lot else, but a lot of them come from a religious POV. But now they’ve also gone off the deep end when it comes to any semblence of fiscal responsibility or even conservativism, the way they seem to want to change the very institutions of this country, and I’m terrified of them, too.

    So I’m going to keep voting Libertarian, unless it comes down to a very good chance for gridlock, or a Democrat or Republican really says some things I can agree with. Jeff Flake here in AZ is a Republican I could vote for, even though I disagree with his views on gay marriage. I can’t think of any Dems I would vote for, but if one would pledge to fight against the drug war, wasn’t anti-gun, and wasn’t looking to raise taxes or regulate “evil” corporations, I wouldn’t have a problem voting for him or her.

    So I’m basically confined to never seeing a candidate I really, really want to win, win. :/

  19. RexRhino:
    Thank you for the list of the Democrats you hate and their causes. You ascribe campaign finance laws to Democrats, yet Mr. McCain’s name is first on the statute (you’re blind to the GOP stance on these issues). You made up the “hate speech crimes” which from what I can tell do not exist in the US. Politically correct “censorship” is something else made up in your mind. The GOP has gotten way more mileage out of the PC craze than Dems ever could hope for. Media regulation? You have got to be joking. The entire country was against the FCC deregulating the amount of media in a single market owned by a conglomerate. The biggest regulation has been from the moralist side, threatening big fines if content providers crossed the christian line. Show me where “political correctness censorship” threatens giant fines and maybe I’ll give your argument some credit.

    Eminent Domain abuse. Yep. One point for you. Though a list of two politicians and one wife of a politician is quite short (Joe Lieberman isn’t even a southerner AND he was rejected by the Democratic Party), I ask you: Do you think perhaps an equally short list could be drawn up of freedom-hating Republicans?

    It sounds to me like you came of age when people around you blamed Democrats for everything and you believed them, and for inexplicable reasons, still do.

  20. Lowdog,
    As an educated elite, I am very clear on allowing you to do whatever the hell you want. I live in NYC, hotbed of educated elitists, and I know not one educated elite who wants to do any of the crap you ascribe to us. You’ve been sold a damn bridge. Perhaps the GOP is a better place for you.

  21. If you look at pages 8-11 or so

    I was so waiting for a Foley punchline to that one.

  22. I was making a generalisation, Lamar, and I’d think an educated elitist like yourself could see that. πŸ™‚

    I’m speaking on anecdotal evidence. I live right next to Arizona State University, and one of my roomates is an anthropology grad student, so I know a few educated elitists, myself. Now, I’m not trying to compare my backwater city of Tempe (part of Phoenix), to your fine metropolis, but at the same time, these are the folks that begged me to vote for Kerry. These are the folks who are squirrelly about guns. These are the folks who complain about stupid people who can’t be trusted to send their children to school, or about how they (the stupid people) are forced through the evil manipulation of commercials to shop at WalMart or to eat at McDonalds.

    So, I didn’t buy anything, and why you’d think the Republican party is for me, I have no idea. I’ve never voted Republican and I can’t really see myself doing it any time soon.

  23. The flip side of libertarians switching votes….

    Many a Republican is discovering that they really are not libertarians. They are discovering that the libertarian community that they felt comfortable with as outsiders are not following them through to the promised land. The libertarians in fact remain hung up about issues that do not support the party.

    I don’t know anything about Libertarian Democrats. I do know that many a libertarian is harrumphed at in my community – Tancredo’s district. It does not make me want to be a Democrat. I will not be reliably voting a party line. I will vote for whom I like, which is part of the reason that many Republicans and Democrats would prefer that all libertarians stay at home on voting day.

  24. Do you think perhaps an equally short list could be drawn up of freedom-hating Republicans?

    Come on, I know it is nessicary to say other places, but I didn’t think it nessicary on the Reason forums. I AM NOT A REPUBLICAN, FOOL!!!

    Just because I am critisizing Democrats, does not mean that I am a Republican! Is that so difficult for you to understand? I have always voted Libertarian, except for one Detroit mayorial election, which I only had a choice of Democrats to select from. Being disgusted with the Democrats and disgusted with the Republicans are not mutually exclusive.

    The topic of converstation has been the “Libertarian Democrat” lately… and so I am explaining that the concept of the Libertarian Democrat is a joke! Take every single issue that Libertarians support, and the Democrats will be opposed to the Libertarian stance in every single one. The Democrats don’t even agree with Libertarians on drug liberalization, or gay marrage, or the Iraq war, or those things that are considered “liberal”…. the Democrats are overwelmingly against gay marrage and drug liberalization, and were pro-Iraq war until things turned bad.

    The idea that I, as a Libertarian, would ever entertain the though of voting for a Democrat is just absurd. The Democrats don’t support “freedom on social issues”, the Democrats don’t support freedom on any issue. “Libertarian Democrats” is a marketing ploy by Democrats without any substance.

    More Libertarians should vote for the Libertarian party. Even if the libertarian party is messed up, and won’t ever win the election, if Libertarians get the reputation of being spoilers for the election, parties will work to make themselves more libertarian. Right now, the Democrats are far more concerned with making themselves palatable to christian-right neocons than to libertarians.

  25. I couldn?t agree with Lamar more. The ?elitist? bogeyman that has been trotted out on this thread and others is almost a complete work of fiction. It?s a strawman held tightly by people like Bill O?Reilly who desperately want to play the populist victim. Oddly, victim politics used to be associated with the left, but now the common-man-conservative is apparently under attack by the likes of the omnipotent Noam Chomsky. The common-man-conservative represents the majority of this country, and he controls every branch of government, but them durned intellectuals from the city are apparently persecuting him from inside their Ivory Tower.

    Hmmm? the masses being persecuted by the bourgeois elitists? Where have I heard that line before?

  26. Chris and Lamar, please explain to me how the overbearing paternalism that is all too frequent on the Democratic Left ISN’T elitist. How many of their policy proposals rest solely on the premise of “for your own good”? Characterizing this notion as GOP propaganda is absurd.

  27. Lurkmania,

    “Paternalistism” and “elitism” aren’t the same thing. Are Dems often paternalistic? Sure, and that’s a good reason not to be a Democrat. But it doesn’t take an elitist to be paternalistic, and it doesn’t take a Democrat to be either paternalistic or elitist — Republican paternalism is stamped all over the GOP’s social agenda.

    The ‘elitist’ myth is all about the guy from Harvard trying to oppress Oklahoma. It’s about the PhD crowd overpowering the silent majority as played by Bill O’Reilly. Paternalism is something even the masses can appreciate, or so it seems given the policies of both parties.

  28. Chris, I will agree with you that elitism and paternalism are not exclusive to the left or Democrats (I was never arguing they were one in the same, just that I find many leftist policy proposals elitist). Nonetheless, when I examine the record and ideas of those in power who place great faith in the government being able to solve problems, which is a major tenet of the left, I cannot help but describe their position as elitist. As in “I know what’s best for you, you helpless lumpen proletariat, for I am enlightened and educated.” See Thomas Sowell’s “Vision of the Anointed” if you don’t see what I’m getting at. Or better yet, Hayek’s concept of the fatal conceit.

  29. Lurkamania,

    As far as I know, paternalism is no more common among the academic elite than among those who describe themselves as “middle class, proletariat, etc.” Modern lefty regulatory theories are generally rooted in overbroad notions about economic externalities, not raw paternalism. On the other hand, plenty of middle America (the self annointed “anti-elite”)cares way to much about saving me from my own sinful ways.

    Telling me to read Sowell in order to understand the left’s elitist vision doesn’t make much sense — that would be like me telling you to read Andrea Dworkin to understand what men are thinking. Show me an influential lefty elitist-paternalist, not a conservative who beleives in lefty elitist-paternalists. For each lefty elitist-paternalist, I could probably show you a dozen lefty-regulatory theories without even the faintest whiff of paternalism, from fairly mainstream notions of majoritarian discrimination to experimentalism and bizarre theories about corporate superstates. These theories are generally dead wrong, but not because they’re elitist.

    As far as Hayek is concerned, I read him a bit differently than you do. In Hayek I see more anti-centralization than philisophical anti-paternalism or anti-elitism.

  30. Lurkamania,

    As far as I know, paternalism is no more common among the academic elite than among those who describe themselves as “middle class, proletariat, etc.” Modern lefty regulatory theories are generally rooted in overbroad notions about economic externalities, not raw paternalism. On the other hand, plenty of middle America (the self annointed “anti-elite”)cares way too much about saving me from my own sinful ways.

    Telling me to read Sowell in order to understand the left’s elitist vision doesn’t make much sense — that would be like me telling you to read Andrea Dworkin to understand what men are thinking. Show me an influential lefty elitist-paternalist, not a conservative who beleives in lefty elitist-paternalists. For each lefty elitist-paternalist, I could probably show you a dozen lefty-regulatory theories without even the faintest whiff of paternalism, from fairly mainstream notions of majoritarian discrimination to experimentalism and bizarre theories about corporate superstates. These theories are generally dead wrong, but not because they’re elitist.

    As far as Hayek is concerned, I read him a bit differently than you do. In Hayek I see more anti-centralization than philisophical anti-paternalism or anti-elitism.

  31. Lurkamania,

    As far as I know, paternalism is no more common among the academic elite than among those who describe themselves as “middle class, proletariat, etc.” Modern lefty regulatory theories are generally rooted in overbroad notions about economic externalities, not raw paternalism. On the other hand, plenty of middle America (the self anointed “anti-elite”)cares way too much about saving me from my own sinful ways.

    Telling me to read Sowell in order to understand the left’s elitist vision doesn’t make much sense — that would be like me telling you to read Andrea Dworkin to understand what men are thinking. Show me an influential lefty elitist-paternalist, not a conservative who believes in lefty elitist-paternalists. For each lefty elitist-paternalist, I could probably show you a dozen lefty-regulatory theories without even the faintest whiff of paternalism, from fairly mainstream notions of majoritarian discrimination to experimentalism and bizarre theories about corporate superstates. These theories are generally dead wrong, but not because they’re elitist.

    As far as Hayek is concerned, I read him a bit differently than you do. In Hayek I see more anti-centralization than philosophical anti-paternalism or anti-elitism.

  32. lurkamania is expounding upon what I’m trying to say.

    And perhaps my choice of wording is incorrect. I don’t know for sure, I’m not an elitist. πŸ™‚

    Actually, I do think that most people are morons (consider that if you are of even average intelligence, a goodly number of folks are a lot dumber than you are!) and make poor decisions. But hey, I’m not exactly a moron and I make poor decisions all the time. So fucking what? How in the hell am I ever supposed to learn and begin making better decisions if someone is always trying to decide for me?

    It’s crap, I say.

  33. Triple post… bleh… Damn squirrels.

  34. “Even if the libertarian party is messed up, and won’t ever win the election, if Libertarians get the reputation of being spoilers for the election, parties will work to make themselves more libertarian.”

    Lemme see…because I might lose to the other major candidate 50%-49%, I should make myself more like the candidate who’s getting 1%?

    Don’t the consistently low votes the Libertarians get just tell the other parties that they’re doing much, much better than the Libertarians? They’re much better off fishing for votes from the other major party than from the tiny minor parties. The only way it’d make sense for them to try to latch onto LP voters would be if they could do it without risking the rest of their present far more numerous voters. Explain how they could to that.

  35. America: the only country where striving to be elite and pursuing an education are actually detriments.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.