Debating the Libertarian Vote

They’re having a lively time with our study “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama” over at the Corner. Ramesh Ponnuru says our results show that “libertarians moved in nearly perfect opposition to the public at large, which was swinging toward the Republicans from 2000 through 2004 and against them from then through 2008.” Guess he didn’t buy our argument that “Libertarians seem to be a lead indicator of trends in centrist, independent-minded voters,” and they’re currently leading independents in a flight from the Obama agenda.

Jonah Goldberg says there aren’t many consistent libertarians, and they don’t vote as a bloc, or swing. Veronique de Rugy kindly posted a response by me:

Jonah says consistent libertarians are rare. Sure. So are consistent conservatives who would affirm every tenet of the Sharon Statement, or an updated Ten Principles of Conservatism for today, complete with policy specifics. What we are saying, and what I think no one has actually countered, is that there are some millions of voters — maybe our 14 percent, maybe Gallup’s 23 percent, maybe even Zogby’s 44/59 percent — who don’t line up either red or blue. They don’t buy the whole package from Rush or Keith, McCain or Obama, NR or TNR. They have real libertarian tendencies on both economic and personal issues.

Does that mean they want to abolish public education and legalize drugs? Of course not. But they do oppose both health care “reform” and restrictions on abortion, or they like both lower taxes and gay marriage or civil unions. According to the 2004 exit polls, 28 million Bush voters supported either marriage or civil unions. And neither party typically offers that program. Which means that some of those people — like eight Seattle entrepreneurs who visited Cato today — are uncomfortable with both parties and don’t vote consistently for either.

Jonah says, “most of the talk about ‘libertarians’ switching sides has been exactly that, talk.” Maybe he should read the study, or at least read Table 2 on page 8. A group of people who are identifiably outside the red/blue boxes did swing toward the Democrats in 2004 and 2006, and then swung back against Obama.

Veronique’s post also linked to Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy, who makes similar points in rather more scholarly language. For more debate, Katherine Mangu-Ward’s report on the study drew more than 100 comments at reason.com.