Millennials Bringing More Racial Diversity to Libertarianism

Just over half of self-identified libertarians in the 18- to 29-year-old age range are white.


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Libertarianism is frequently accused of only appealing to white men, but data on American political identification finds the philosophy has much broader appeal—especially among millennials. Only slightly more than half of self-identified libertarians in the 18- to  29-year-old age range are white, according to pollster Emily Ekins, formerly of the Reason Foundation (which publishes Reason magazine) and now at the Cato Institute. 

Ekins looked at several data sets to determine the demographic makeup of U.S. libertarians. For all-ages data, Ekins consulted nine Reason-Rupe surveys she conducted between 2012-2014 and a November 2015 poll conducted by Cato and YouGov, averaging the info from all 10 studies. The result: 71 percent of self-identified libertarians were white, 14 percent were Hispanic, five percent were black, eight percent identified as another race, and 4 percent chose not to answer. "While not an exact reflection," writes Ekins, "these numbers are similar to the demographic makeup of all respondents averaged across the surveys: 67 percent white, 13 percent Latino, 12 percent African-American, 7 percent identifying as other, and 1 percent not identifying." 

Cato Institute

When we consider millennials alone, the picture gets much more racially diverse. For this data, Ekins turned to a study of 18- to 29-year-olds she conducted for the Reason Foundation in 2014. Among self-identified libertarians in this group, 56 percent were white, 21 percent were Hispanic, 14 percent were black, 8 percent were Asian, and 1 percent identified as none of these categories. Again, the racial breakdown for libertarians was similar to that for all millennials surveyed, with 57 percent white, 15 percent black, 15 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian, and 4 percent another race.

When it comes to sex, men dominated among both millennial libertarians and libertarians of all ages, though women still make up a substantial share of the liberty movement. According to Ekins' poll averaging, 63 percent of all self-identified libertarians were male and 37 percent were female. Among millennials, 68 percent were male and 32 percent were female.

Studies from Pew Research Center and YouGov have ascertained similar two-to-one ratios of male to female libertarians. A 2015 poll from YouGov found 21 percent of all male respondents identified as libertarian, compared to 10 percent of female respondents. The Pew survey, from 2014, found 15 percent of men and 7 percent of women described themselves as libertarian while also being able to identify that it was a philosophy of limited government. 

In the YouGov poll, 17 percent of all Hispanic respondents, 16 percent of whites, and 11 percent of blacks said they would describe themselves as libertarian, with 47 percent of Hispanic respondents, 29 percent of white respondents, and 32 percent of black respondents saying they were "not sure" whether the label applied. 

"In sum," writes Ekins, "Americans who choose to self-identify as libertarian in surveys tend to reflect the racial and ethnic demography of the United States more than is commonly realized, particularly among younger libertarians. However, self-identified libertarians are more like to be male than female."