Tag: libertarian vote

Is There a Libertarian Vote?

The Gallup Poll has a new estimate of the number of libertarians in the American electorate. In their 2014 Gallup Governance Survey they find that 24 percent of respondents can be characterized as libertarians (as compared to 27 percent conservative, 21 percent liberal, and 18 percent populist).

For more than 20 years now, the Gallup Poll has been using two questions to categorize respondents by ideology:

Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

Here’s a graphic depiction of the number of respondents who gave libertarian answers to both questions in the Bush-Obama years: 

Gallup Governance libertarians

Libertarians, who disagree with both Democrats and Republicans on major issues, have not been reliable voters for either party. They generally tend to vote Republican by about a two to one majority. But as David Kirby and I wrote in our 2010 study, “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama”:

In 2004 libertarians swung away from Bush, anticipating the Democratic victories of 2006. In 2008, according to new data in this paper, libertarians voted against Barack Obama. Libertarians seem to be a lead indicator of trends in centrist, independent-minded voters. If libertarians continue to lead the independents away from Obama, Democrats will lose 2010 midterm elections they would otherwise win.

And of course the Democrats did have a bad 2010. If libertarian-leaning voters react against Obamacare, overregulation, endless wars, and the surveillance state, then Democrats are likely to have a bad 2014 as well. But Republican positions on immigration, gay marriage, and marijuana push libertarian voters, especially millennial libertarians away; that might account for the surprisingly weak showing of many Republicans in polls in a year when President Obama is unpopular and the economy remains dismal.

Read more about the libertarian vote in our original study or in our 2012 ebook.

Hat tip to Lydia Saad for the data and to Derek Lee and David Dewhurst for the chart.

Libertarian Choices in Colorado

Karen Tumulty asks in the Washington Post

what label do you put on the political philosophy of a state that one year would legalize marijuana for recreational use and the next year recall two state senators who voted for stricter gun laws?

Readers of this blog might have an answer. So, it turns out, does Sen. Mark Udall:

“We’re a libertarian state — small ‘l’ — when it comes to privacy issues, issues of reproductive freedom, gun ownership, who you worship, who you spend your life with,” Udall said. “We’re a pro-environment state. We self-identify with environmentalists more than any other state in the nation. But we’re also very pro-business.”

So now those small-l libertarian voters will have to decide whether they prefer a not-so-libertarian Democrat, a not-so-libertarian Republican, or a big-L Libertarian.

Read more on libertarian voters, especially in the Mountain West.

Libertarian Views in the Republican Party: An Outlier

Last week, Ross Tilchin at Brookings asked whether a stronger appeal to libertarian voters could help Republicans win elections. He was skeptical:

First, according to the [Public Religion Research Institute] PRRI poll, libertarians represent only 12% of the Republican Party. This number is consistent with the findings of other studies by the Pew Research Center and the American National Election Study. This libertarian constituency is dwarfed by other key Republican groups, including white evangelicals (37%) and those who identify with the Tea Party (20%).

Tilchin’s use of the phrase “consistent with” to describe the findings of other studies is, well, interesting. In fact, other studies have found almost three times more libertarians in the Republican Party than PRRI’s poll.

As I blogged at Cato and found in a study for FreedomWorks, libertarian views in the Republican Party are the highest level in a decade. According to my analysis of American National Election Studies data, libertarians represent 35 percent of the Republican Party, an increase of 9 percentage points since 2000. Gallup’s own studies confirm this trend: libertarian views represent 34 percent of the Republican Party, a 19 percentage point increase since 2002. See chart below.

GG3

How exactly are 35 percent and 34 percent “consistent with” 12 percent? A better word to describe PRRI’s finding would be “outlier.”

As Karlyn Bowman pointed out at Brookings’ own forum on the subject, PRRI’s finding that libertarians are 7 percent of Americans is at the very low end of other estimates of libertarian voters. In 2011, Pew’s Typology Survey found 9 percent libertarians. In 2012, Gallup’s Governance Survey found 25 percent libertarians. Emily Ekins averaged seven Reason-Rupe polls from 2011 to 2012 and found libertarians represented 24 percent of Americans.

David Boaz and I, in our original study on the “Libertarian Vote,” took a conservative middle ground, estimating that libertarians were 15 percent of voters in 2004. Of course, even a conservative 15 percent is twice as many libertarians as the 7 percent PRRI choose to recognize. And, picking a smaller number, as PRRI does, makes it easier to question or dismiss libertarians’ importance.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to make PRRI’s data “consistent with” other findings. PRRI’s methodology defines libertarians based on nine issue questions, ranking answers for their libertarian-ness on a 7-point scale, with 1 being the most libertarian, and 7 being the least. Robbie Jones and the other authors at PRRI defined “libertarians” as respondents who score between 9 and 25 points. Respondents who scored 26-33 were categorized as “lean libertarian.”

If we add PRRI’s two categories of “libertarian” and “lean libertarian,” the data show 23 percent of Americans are broadly libertarian. Using this definition, PRRI’s data are actually quite “consistent with” the findings from other studies:

  • PRRI’s data show libertarians represent 36 percent of Republican Party in 2013, consistent with ANES and Gallup data;
  • Libertarians are about the same size as other key constituencies in the Republican Party, such as white evangelicals; 
  • Libertarians represent 56 percent, or half, of the tea party, consistent with the finding in Emily Ekins and my Cato study, “Libertarian Roots of the Tea Party.”

Of course, how to define libertarians and who counts as a “real” libertarian is a favorite parlor game of libertarian intellectuals. Do you count only those “hard core” libertarians who have rigorously consistent beliefs? Or, do you count those who hold broadly libertarian views or instincts that are different than conservatives or liberals? If you think this is a simple question, just amuse yourself with GMU economist Bryan Caplan’s 64-question “Libertarian Purity Test.”

What is missing from the PRRI study is that it doesn’t deal with this past literature, or make an argument for its methodology, one way or the other. Particularly when your definition of libertarians is an outlier, your readers deserve to have the finding placed in context.

Regardless, the very fact that PRRI and Brookings did this study is an important milestone. For many years, libertarian voters were a research topic of interest to a small group of think tankers, writers, and contrarian political strategists, as well as a handful of curious academics. But when the Ford Foundation funds a major study on libertarian voters, and Brookings hosts a panel with scholars from PRRI, AEI, Cato, and the Ethics & Public Policy Center, I take this as a sign that libertarians are no longer politically ignorable.

That’s a good thing.

Voting in 2012, Libertarian and Otherwise

Somehow, election results continue to trickle in, and David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report continues to update his spreadsheet of the national popular vote. At this point, he shows President Obama reelected with 50.86 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 47.43 percent. For whatever reason, the late-arriving results all seem to widen Obama’s lead.

The total vote appears to be down by almost 4 million votes from 2008, and Obama has received about 4.7 million fewer votes than he did in his first campaign. Romney received slightly more votes than John McCain did.

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson received 1,265,000 votes, according to Wikipedia, whose mysterious editors show the votes for every candidate. That’s the most any Libertarian presidential candidate has ever received. It amounts to 0.99 percent, just shy of Ed Clark’s 1.06 percent in 1980. If Johnson had been on the ballot in Michigan and Oklahoma, he would surely have broken 1 percent, though he still probably wouldn’t have exceeded Clark’s percentage. (Michigan and Oklahoma haven’t been very good states for Libertarian candidates.) Johnson’s best states were New Mexico, where he served two terms as governor, followed by Montana and Alaska.

The Libertarian Party reports that seven Libertarian statewide candidates in Texas and Georgia received more than a million votes.

Don’t forget to read the new ebook The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, which discusses how the millions of libertarian-leaning voters in America tend to vote. (It does not have 2012 results.)

Libertarian Vote Ebook Shows Libertarian Growth

Our new ebook, The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, is No. 1 on Amazon’s Practical Politics bestseller list (at least as of post time.) Get your own Kindle version at Amazon or a variety of formats (.epub, .mobi, and .pdf) at the Cato store.

Last year Nate Silver of the New York Times wrote about rising libertarian trends on two questions regularly asked in CNN and Gallup polls:

Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

I was especially interested since those are two of the questions that David Kirby and I regularly use in our studies of “the libertarian vote.” CNN asked the questions again in 2012, and the combined libertarian support rose again. Here’s a graphic depiction of those poll results, from Cato’s Jon Meyers, which you can also find in our new ebook, The Libertarian Vote.

Buy it now! Find all our studies, plus lots more colorful graphs.

‘The Libertarian Vote’ — Now in an Ebook

What a long way we’ve come since David Kirby and I first started writing about the libertarian vote in 2006. Back then liberal blogger Matt Yglesias neatly summarized the conventional political wisdom: the libertarian vote is “zero percent,” “a rounding error in the scheme of things.” Why would anyone care what libertarians think? And National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru suggested that Republicans would actually lose votes by appealing to libertarians.

In our new ebook, The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center, Kirby, Emily Ekins, and I bring together our studies and other writings on libertarian voters, along with some spiffy new graphics. (That’s the Amazon link; for multiple formats, go here.)

Today, libertarians are an increasingly influential and accepted part of the political mix. Ron Paul went deep into the 2012 Republican presidential primary, drawing crowds of thousands of young people and 2.1 million votes; and his son Sen. Rand Paul is being joined by other libertarian-leaning members of both houses of Congress. Tea partiers have strong libertarian roots, as Kirby and Emily Ekins discuss in two articles in this ebook. The “Audit the Fed” bill passed the U.S. House 327 to 98; all but one Republican and 89 Democrats voted yes. In academia, social scientist Jonathan Haidt teamed up with scholars at UCLA, USC, and NYU to conduct the largest study ever on “libertarian psychology.” Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch write about a “libertarian moment” in their book Declaration of Independents.

The latest Governance Survey from Gallup, earlier visions of which are cited throughout the book, finds 25 percent of respondents gave libertarian responses to two questions (“government is trying to do too many things” and “government should promote traditional values”), up from 17 percent in 2004, 21 percent in 2006, and 23 percent in 2008 and 2010. Analysts from GOPAC to Nate Silver at the New York Times have tried to measure the libertarian – or “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” – constituency.

Read all about it in The Libertarian Vote.

Those who doubt the relevance of the libertarian vote might consult the last commentary in the book, “The Real Swing Voters,” which finds evidence in an August 2012 ABC-Washington Post poll that the truly independent voters still up for grabs lean strongly libertarian.

The Real Swing Voters

A new poll from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation looks at independent voters, the voters who presumably will decide this year’s election. The poll finds that about a third of all voters call themselves independents. But “nearly two-thirds of Americans who describe themselves as independents act very much like partisan Republicans or partisan Democrats.” Another quarter are “detached,” with a low interest in politics and unlikely to vote.

Which leaves 13 percent of the independents, or about five percent of the total electorate, to be designated by the Post’s Jon Cohen and Dan Balz as “Deliberators,” people genuinely open to candidates of both parties. And the following figure reveals some pretty interesting things about them. They’re virtually all registered to vote, they insist that they really do vote for candidates of both parties, and only about 60 percent currently plan to vote for either Obama or Romney. They’re highly dissatisfied with today’s political system.  And look at the next  two lines under “Issues”: 64 percent support “smaller government with fewer services,” and 63 percent favor gay marriage. The former position, of course, puts them closer to Republicans, and the latter closer to Democrats. These are the true swing voters, and they might well be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

 

 

Note: This chart was extracted by Carlos Goes from a larger one published on page 16 of the August 21 Washington Post, but apparently not published online.

For more on fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters, check here and here. And see Cato’s original study “The Libertarian Vote” from 2006.

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