Millennials Are More Likely to Identify as Libertarians. Why That's Good News for Rand Paul.

1 in 5 say yes to libertarianism.



A new poll turned up some exciting evidence that the Libertarian Moment has indeed arrived—at least for the under-30 crowd. About 1 in 5 millennials self-describe as libertarians, according to YouGov results released last week.

The poll found that 20 percent of respondents ages 18-29 identify as libertarians. Another 42 percent were unsure whether they were libertarians, and 39 percent rejected the label outright. Libertarianism had its strongest showing among young people: only 17 percent of 30-44 year-olds, 15 percent of 45-64 year-olds, and 9 percent of the 65+ crowd self-identified as libertarians.

Self-described libertarians are a remarkably—and delightfully—nonpartisan group. Roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats said they considered themselves libertarians (13 percent and 12 percent, respectively). At 19 percent, Independents were the most likely political group to align with libertarianism.

YouGov described the majority of Americans as sympathetic to libertarianism but sketchy on some of its specifics:

Most Americans (51%) agree with the core idea of libertarianism that smaller governments are better governments, but that they are less convinced about other ideas common in libertarian circles. Americans tend to disagree (46%) rather than agree (34%) with the idea that poverty is generally more a result of individual failing than social problems. A large majority of Americans (68%) also agree with the idea that people occasionally need to be saved from themselves, something somewhat at odds with the libertarian idea that people should be free to do what they want, even if it damages them, as long as they are not hurting others. 

The poll supports something Nate Silver wrote about libertarians and the electorate last week in response to Paul Krugman's assertion that Rand Paul's candidacy will fail because practically no one is a libertarian. Here is a relevant section from Silver's post, titled "There Are Few Libertarians. But Many Have Libertarian Views.":

Take two issues that are taken as emblematic of the split between liberal and conservative viewpoints: gay marriage and income inequality. If Krugman is right, you should see few Americans who are in favor of same-sex marriage but oppose government efforts to reduce income inequality, or vice versa.

As it turns out, however, there are quite a number of them; about 4 in 10 Americans have "inconsistent" views on these issues. …

The rigidly partisan views of political elites should not be mistaken for the relatively malleable and diverse ones that American voters hold.

It's of course wrong to pretend that libertarianism is on the verge of total triumph, no matter how well Paul does. But it's also wrong to pretend that libertarianism is making no progress whatsoever. Millennials, it seems, are increasingly willing to reconsider the awkward and inconsistent political pairings of their parents' and grandparents' generation. That's why libertarianism has virtually replaced conservatism as the alternative to leftism for college students involved in political advocacy. And it's why I expect Paul's campaign to generate more enthusiasm from younger voters, despite him being an imperfect conduit of libertarian sentiments.