New Study Examines the Youth of the Libertarian Movement


Liana Gamber Thompson, Ph.D. has a written a study that examines who today's young libertarians are and what they think. In Thompson's own words: 

Based on almost a year of ethnographic work, in-depth interviews, and participant observation, this report seeks to unpack some of the more pervasive misconceptions about young libertarians like Dorian Electra and to give a detailed account of what participants call the Liberty Movement.

The study highlights the work of Students For Liberty and many of the usual suspects in the libertarian beltway scene.

Some interesting points raised by the study:

Young libertarians are not fans of electoral politics: 

Interestingly, the majority of participants in this study spoke of disavowing electoral politics completely. While libertarian-leaning candidates like Ron Paul have gained momentum in recent years, a number of participants identified themselves as categorical non-voters, choosing to focus on educating others about liberty-related issues rather than investing in party politics. 

Young libertarians are mostly white and male, but this is changing:

In the interviews, participants were asked how they would characterize the demographics of the movement. They were also asked to assess gender and racial dynamics in the movement and whether they believed the movement would benefit from greater diversity. Participants' answers varied greatly; the majority indicated that they felt the movement was still predominately comprised of white males, but was in the process of becoming increasingly diverse with respect to gender and race.

Social media is especially important for young libertarians, who oftentimes feel isolated in high school and college:

In their work on the experiences of fan activists, Neta Kliger-Vilenchik et al. identify "sense of community" as one of the main factors that engages young people and sustains their involvement in activist organizations (they look at both loosely networked organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance and more hierarchical organizations like Invisible Children). Many of the interview participants spoke of being the only libertarian in their high school, town, or college social circle and how isolating that could feel. Others talked about "feeling crazy" for being interested in libertarian ideas because no one else they knew had the same beliefs.

And of course, young libertarians are misunderstood:

Ideological beliefs aside, libertarians are too often misunderstood or ignored by the news media, politicians, and academics. They are regularly painted as misguided or misinformed and are frequently ignored in major political debates. However, this case study illustrates that, to the contrary, young libertarians are often extremely knowledgeable about local, national, and often international political issues and about both liberal and conservative party platforms. 

The libertarians I interviewed were intelligent, articulate, and, most importantly, passionate about changing the status quo and working toward what they interpreted as a freer society. 

Before I was at Reason I covered the last International Students for Liberty Conference for The American Conservative. Students for Liberty will be hosting its next International Students for Liberty Conference early next year in Washington D.C., in case any readers would like to see a whole lot of young libertarians under one roof.