More Sightings of Libertarian Voters

Michael Petrilli created a stir with his Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Whole Foods Republicans,” on Monday. He noted that the American electorate includes more college graduates every year, and in 2008 the Republican nominee for president lost the college-educated vote for the first time since the 1970s. Republicans need to stop sneering at the “arugula vote” and start appealing to educated, progressive voters:

What’s needed is a full-fledged effort to cultivate “Whole Foods Republicans”—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics….

What makes these voters potential Republicans is that, lifestyle choices aside, they view big government with great suspicion. There’s no law that someone who enjoys organic food, rides his bike to work, or wants a diverse school for his kids must also believe that the federal government should take over the health-care system or waste money on thousands of social programs with no evidence of effectiveness….

Even more important is the party’s message on divisive social issues. When some Republicans use homophobic language, express thinly disguised contempt toward immigrants, or ridicule heartfelt concerns for the environment, they affront the values of the educated class. And they lose votes they otherwise ought to win.

These voters are part of the “libertarian vote” that David Kirby and I have been exploring. Libertarian voters tend to be more educated than average (see “The Libertarian Vote,” table 11, page 17), and they can be described as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” It’s good to know other people are noticing them, and we hope that soon candidates and consultants will take note. For those who are still dubious, the day after the Wall Street Journal column, the Washington Post published this letter:

When I read House Minority Leader John Boehner’s Washington Forum commentary about the GOP’s thoughts on economic policy and job creation – as compared with that of the Obama administration [“A better plan for jobs,” Dec. 11] – I wanted to cheer. I am concerned about America’s increase in debt and think that the health reform plan is interventionist and has no hope of reforming health care.

But I can’t cheer. Because I apparently can’t be a Republican – limited government, fiscal conservative – unless I am also willing to vote for “pure conservative” candidates a la the purity test being proposed to the Republican National Committee: pro-life, anti-gay marriage, draconian immigration policies [“A party both united and divided,” front page, Nov. 30]. These are policies I refuse to support.

So, whom do I vote for next year?

Kathy Rondon, Falls Church

I don’t know if Ms. Rondon shops at Whole Foods, but she’s definitely a part of the “libertarian vote.” Republicans wondering why they lost in 2006 and 2008, and Democrats worrying about slipping poll numbers during 2009, should take a look at the libertarian slice of the electorate.