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.