I've got a new column up at Time.com that looks at the brand-new American Values Survey, which is titled "In Search of Libertarians."
Here are some snippets:
The 22 percent of Americans who are consistent libertarians or lean libertarian are fully capable of throwing any election in their direction. That makes them the true wild cards of American politics. A majority of libertarians describe themselves as independent (35 percent), affiliated with a third party (15 percent), or as Democrats (5 percent), with the remaining 45 percent calling themselves Republicans….
[Sen. Rand] Paul's libertarian rhetoric suggests one path forward for the Republican Party, even if Paul himself is not a pitch-perfect spokesman. He is, after all, an outspoken opponent of abortion who believes life begins at conception and his views on pot legalization and same-sex marriage leave a lot to be desired from a minimal government perspective. As does his endorsement of and campaigning for Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who has called for reinstating sodomy laws struck down by the Supreme Court and is not simply against gay marriage but declared in 2009 that "homosexual acts are wrong and should not be accomodated in government policy." While evangelicals and even Tea Party types might rally around such notions, there's just no way to spin such positions as in any way, shape, or form libertarian….
If the Republicans can't figure out a way to accommodate broadly popular, socially tolerant libertarian policies on gay rights, drug legalization, and more, they will not just lose the race for the White House in 2016, but quite possibly their status as a major party.
After a dozen-plus years of government mismanagement of the economy, foreign policy, and basic civil liberties under Republicans and Democrats, a record number of Americans rightly believe that the government has too much power. Libertarians are young, intense, principled, and highly engaged in politics. They are going to be around for a long time to come, and in ever-larger numbers. The only question left unanswered is who they will vote for.