Bernie Sanders

The Ron Paul/Bernie Sanders Connection

Under-30s dig both socialism and libertarianism more than the average American does. What does that mean?


A gentleman with whom I was in a punk rock band decades ago, Ivan Osorio, wrote an amusing bit of political absurdism in the form of a punk song whose lyrics went, in their entirety: "I'm voting for George Wallace. He's the one who represents me and the silent majority. Gus Hall's my second choice. (4X)"

That lyrical hat tip to absurd political choice irrationality has been on my mind lately as I contemplate the strange phenomenon of the Paulista for Bernie.

As discussed briefly earlier today at Hit and Run, I interpreted the "Ron Paul Revolution" of 2007-12 as showing a growing mass acceptance of at least a rough version of libertarianism. This election cycle seems to be indicating I overestimated that.

As was true when I wrote my book about Ron Paul's campaigns in 2012, and is still today as far as I know, nothing like rigorous social science survey data exists on the world of Ron Paul fans and what they believe.

But my rough empiricism by meeting and communicating with hundreds of them in the real world and online is that they were at least dominated by a coherent set of libertarian beliefs even if they wouldn't use the term and weren't as rigorous about their thinking from first principles as a movement libertarian veteran usually is.

Today those data journalists at Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site deliver, not quite the data we might be hungry for, but some interesting discussions about Bernie Sanders mania and its possible overlaps with Ron Paul mania of elections gone by.

Sadly, it turns out that under-30s in a recent YouGov survey are more positive toward (whatever they think of as) socialism than they are (whatever they think of as) capitalism.

But still, Silver at FiveThirtyEight finds that the young aren't actually that much more excited about serious wealth redistribution (really more what Sanders is pushing than socialism classically conceived) than Americans as a whole—with about 60 percent of the under-30s supporting it—and the percentage into redistribution hasn't increased much with time.

And the young are also confusingly a little more enthusiastic about the term libertarian, as Silver goes on to explain, and:

the demographics of Sanders's support now and Ron Paul's support four years ago are not all that different: Both candidates got much more support from younger voters than from older ones, from men than from women, from white voters than from nonwhite ones, and from secular voters than from religious ones. Like Sanders, Paul drew more support from poorer voters than from wealthier ones in 2012….

This seems confusing, no?

If both "socialism" and "libertarianism" are popular among young voters, could it be that younger voters have a wider spread of opinions on economic redistribution, with more responses on both the "0" and "100" ends of the scale? It could be, but that's not what the data shows. In fact, on the General Social Survey question I mentioned earlier, younger Americans were more likely than older ones to be concentrated toward the center and not toward the extremes on the redistribution issue.

How does one make sense of this?

The cynical interpretation of this is that the appeal of both "socialism" and "libertarianism" to younger Americans is more a matter of the labels than the policy substance. Relatedly, it's hard to find all that much of a disagreement over core issues between Clinton and Sanders, who voted together 93 percent of the time when they were both in the Senate from 2007 to 2009.

Silver points out, rightly, that the American two-party system doesn't do much to encourage political science rigor in how Americans apply labels to ideas. Both major parties "are not all that philosophically coherent, nor do they reflect the relatively diverse and multidimensional political views of individual Americans. Instead, the major American political parties are best understood as coalitions of interest groups that work together to further one another's agendas."

Thus, Silver guesses that youthful statements of approval of the "socialist" and "libertarian" labels is just another sign of a growing and expanding sense of ideological independence from existing two-party structures, an idea you may have read about around here. via our own Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie's book Declaration of Independents.

In a more colloquial sense, as I learned from interviewing some people involved in Rand Paul campaigning in Iowa this season, there is a certain general sense of "the system as it stands is rigged and screwed and needs serious changing" that animates people toward, in many cases, first Paul and then Sanders. Clearly, such a voter is not as rationalistic about preferred policy solutions as most libertarians are. Clearly, most voters are not.

NEXT: Journalists Described Hillary Clinton's Speech as 'Muscular'—Because Her Team Blackmailed Them

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  1. Some people are fed up

    1. And ALL people are stupid.

      Well, almost all.

      1. And ALL people are stupid

        I’ll just leave this here.

  2. Well, Ron Paul did say that Sanders was the most free market friendly candidate still left in the race.

    1. Even a crony capitalist like Trump is still more of a defender of free enterprise than any socialist.

      1. Is it?

        Crony capitalism is very close to it, because you still have the government picking winners (cronies) and losers (small business mostly).

        Though I guess under socialism, there are no winners.

        1. Is it?

          With the important disclaimer that Trump is basically a glorified clown and reliable predictions about how he will act as President are impossible to make:

          The key difference between a crony capitalist and a socialist is that the former will tend to favor his friends while the latter will tend to punish his enemies.

    2. ” Ron Paul did say that Sanders was the most free market friendly candidate still left in the race.'”

      if by “free market” you mean, “crazy rambling about banks”

  3. Two of the top-polling candidates in the primaries are independents who just happen to be running in party primaries because that’s how it’s done. But they are still independents, really, and they both have tons of traction. People are fed up with the two party system.

    1. That’s a good point that you surprisingly don’t see too much. It could be a sign of a big change in the party system.

      1. If it is it doesn’t currently seem a change for the better.

        1. No. But at least it’s interesting.

    2. Pretty much that.

  4. I thought the connection was obvious from the start. The fans and the rhetoric was exactly the same. Sanders has the advantage of running against Hillary and broader ideological support from Dems than Paul had from Reps (more Democrats pining for European socialism than Republicans pining for non-intervention and auditing the Fed, I think), but the broad strokes are much the same.

  5. Isn’t this most likely a case of these voters wanting something along the lines of, “Take care of me, but don’t tell me what to do!”?

    1. Yes, the modern left is very teenage that way. “Don’t tell me what to do! Stay out of my room!” combined with “Drive me to the mall! My allowance is too small!”

  6. Young people don’t remember the USSR, Communist China, the Iron Curtain, etc. To them, “socialism” sounds warm and fuzzy. “We can be like Sweden! It’s socialist there, right??”

    Frankly, I think this Reason is dropping the ball. They spend w-a-a-y too much time pounding on the same issues, often trivial, like the latest violent and/or crazy dimwit who auto-Darwinated by getting shot by the police. Not to defend actual police abuse, which does exist, but I think it’s a pretty minor problem compared to our continuing descent into semi-socialist bankruptcy. I’d prefer that Reason focused their fire on destroying the socialist memes that are increasingly popular.

    1. Remember most of the reason staff are also to young to remember the iron curtain and the ones who are not likely were on its side.

      1. On the curtain’s side?

        1. Yes. I seriously doubt any of them were cold warriors or did not engage in the worst sort of moral equivalence between the two sides that the left engaged in back in the 80s. They are so emersed in cultural leftism and the cult of the cool it is hard to imagine them not being so. And there was never anything “cool” about being an anti communist back in the day.

          1. Eh, I don’t remember anything particularly pro-Soviet from Reason, ever.

        2. There’s a long strain of the Rothbard set giving the USSR a free pass on its trangressions, if not outright defending them. Although, I wasn’t alive in the 1970s or early 1980s and haven’t trawled through the Reason archives, so I don’t know how much traction that got in the magazine.

          1. Rothbard didn’t love freedom nearly as much as he hated the United States. He was of course happy to enjoy the benefits of living here.

  7. There is no connection while both may be popular with those under 30, their supporters are not the same people.

  8. Sorry, Bernie is terrible for liberty. There is nothing free market about him. His ideology is about theft, and cares not about the violence that required to implement his desires, because he is shielded from any consequenses. He embraces Marx, etc., and has nothing to show for his life other than politics, which he will use whatever power he can to control others.

    If he gets into power, he will try anything to isurp the rights of individuals, just like the current, and prior presidents and congress critters have done. And when you can print, and enslave the future to debt, he can claim victory, and be gone before the disaster hits, while relaxing, and collecting a check, free healthcare, and security.

    1. You mean gay marriage might not be the most important Liberty issue ever?

      1. I dunno, I think that barely makes the top 5 of Reason main issues:

        Open Borders
        (Not) Bombing “Brown” People
        Drug legalization
        Gay Marriage

        1. Did you read the magazine in the four years leading up to the gay marriage decision? Gay marriage was next to the drug war by far the most covered issue.

          1. Now, now, now. Scott wrote other things. Occasionally. Well, once.

      2. John|2.9.16 @ 8:33PM|#
        “You mean gay marriage might not be the most important Liberty issue ever?”

        Poor, poor John! Are you taking up a collection to ease your pain?
        BTW, tough shit that those you find icky get equal protection.

        1. BTW, tough shit that those you find icky get equal protection.

          They don’t though.

          This was not a win for equal protection–it was a loss for freedom of association.

  9. The fact Brian Doherty would ever think to sell libertarianism as capitalism is one of the probable reasons libertarianism has not done well!

    Libertarianism supports a free market – not any specific version like capitalism with all the false propaganda that goes with it!

    1. Well, ‘Free Market’ is the far better term. That said, most anti-FM types see it as meaning “Free to do whatever we want in business, and that implicitly means that we want to hurt/screw over everyone else”.

      1. Well you just need to correct them that it means a market based upon freedom of association ! Not to do whatever you want, which I personally doubt they really believe.

        1. Freedom of association is not unrestricted

  10. At most this means that those under 30 want their pot and ass swx paid for by everyone else.

    1. Matt Taibbi. Whenever someone brings up ass sex & drugs, I think of Matt Taibbi.

  11. What the youth may be interested in is the liberal concept of freedom of association – as opposed to STATE-MANDATED association … the basis of fascism

    1. Considering how happy most of them are to see anyone who refuses to do business at a gay wedding be fined out of business , I am pretty sure they are all about government mandated association and have little use for free association that offends their delicate snowflake sensibilities.

      1. You remind them the STATE-MANDATED association is the basis of fascism and see how they like it 🙂

  12. If the Paulista’s for Bernie bend your mind, what do you make of Trump supporters that voted for Obama?

    I think the republic is doomed myself and we are just treading water until President? Camacho!

  13. This is the absolutely dumbest election season I have ever experienced, and it really saddens me to see such abject stupidity spilling over to the pages of reason as scribes twist themselves into pretzels trying to find some correlation between the campaigns of two complete kooks running for President nearly a decade apart. Nobody gives a fuck about Ron Paul anymore. Conversely, Sanders is pig ignorant and should be ridiculed with extreme prejudice. Oh, but wait! What do the Millennials think? Has anybody polled them? Oh, that’s right. Nobody gives a flying fuck of a rat’s ass about those overgrown teenagers either because a not-insignificant number of American adults have the following to concern themselves with:




    Here are three things that are of paramount importance to the average voter. How is comparing Ron Paul to Bernie Sanders relate to this?

  14. 1) libertinism is not libertarianism. Certain socialists are comfortable with libertinism as a tool to break down the existing civil society (though, needless to say, such wantonness is not something that will be tolerated once they build the New Soviet Man).

    2) I’ll just let Hoffer take this one:

    When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In pre-Hitlerian Germany it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis… This receptivity to all movements does not always cease even after the potential true believer has become the ardent convert of a specific movement. Where mass movements are in violent competition with each other, there are not infrequent instances of converts — even the most zealous — shifting their allegiance from one to the other. A Saul turning into a Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle

    1. That book deserves a regular re-read.

  15. “Silver points out, rightly, that the American two-party system doesn’t do much to encourage political science rigor in how Americans apply labels to ideas.”

    No doubt, but it’s the job of the voter to figure that out, not the pandering party.

  16. Good article. I don’t know about a “connection,” per se. I think what we see with under-30s is that they just often tend to go crazy for slightly-rumpled, old, grey-haired rabble-rousers with political credentials who espouse positions dear to them, most commonly anti-war, anti-drug-war, anti-draft, anti-big-business, anti-big-banks, anti-big-money, anti-corruption, anti-lobbying, and let’s not forget ranting against the high cost of college. (These are common to both Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders, and others before them). To many youth, slightly-unkempt appearance, a life of serving in government, and a maverick record (plus a dash of idiosyncrasy) don’t just lend credibility; they are credentials. “See? This guy gets it, and he’s old! Why don’t all the rest of you old people get it? He’s not crazy and neither are we! I could vote for this guy!” Timing and dumb luck certainly play in, too. But beyond that, the dividing line is just the same old standard: whether they want bigger government or smaller government.

  17. They don’t care about ideology. They just know everything is broken and they want to break it more. Yay Ron Paul … oh here’s another guy angry at the system … [Bernie]. Makes no sense for logical thinking folks, but it works well for the emotional folks.

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