Tag: libertarian vote

Libertarians, Independents, and Tea Parties

David Kirby and I have an op-ed in today’s Politico on libertarians as the “leading edge” of the independent vote:

Who are these centrist, independent-minded voters who swung the elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts to Republican candidates and are likely to be crucial in races this fall?…

Libertarians seem to be a leading indicator of this trend in centrist, independent-minded voters, based on an analysis of many years of polling data. We estimate that libertarians compose from 14 percent to 23 percent of voters nationally. They are among the few real swing voters in U.S. politics.

We note that libertarian voters started to swing against the Republicans in 2004, before most Republicans did. Then independents swung hard to the Democrats in 2006 and 2008. By 2008, though, libertarian voters had apparently recoiled against the prospect of an Obama-Pelosi-Reid government at a time of financial crisis. By November 2009 and January 2010, a majority of independents had followed the libertarians in turning against the Democrats’ big-government agenda. We go on to say:

So, if many of these centrist, independent voters are indeed libertarians, why aren’t libertarians better recognized?

First, the word “libertarian” is still unfamiliar — even to many who hold “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” views. Pollsters rarely use it….

Second, libertarian voters have traditionally been less likely to organize.

In the past three years, however, libertarians have become a more visible, organized force in politics — particularly as campaigns move online. Ron Paul’s campaign demonstrated that libertarians can organize and raise large sums of money on the Internet.

Meanwhile, tea party protests showed that libertarian-inspired anger can boil over into spontaneous, nationwide rallies. On Sept. 12, 2009, more than 100,000 people marched on Washington to protest federal spending and the growth of government — many carrying nerdy, libertarian-inspired signs such as “I Am John Galt,” referring to the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

Libertarians are emerging as a force within U.S. politics. While political leaders such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and media stars like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are icons to a “conservative base,” it is not yet clear what political leaders might represent these libertarian voters.

But with candidates working to capitalize on voter angst in the 2010 midterms, there are sure to be many politicians angling to lead this libertarian vote.

Meanwhile, a new Politico/TargetPoint poll of people who attended the April 15 Tea Party in Washington found “two camps” there: “one that’s libertarian-minded and largely indifferent to hot-button values issues and another that’s culturally conservative and equally concerned about social and fiscal issues.” They also found a difference in intensity: “Asked to rate their level of anger about 22 issues on a scale of one (not angry at all) to five (extremely angry), the issue that drew the most anger: the growing national debt. The least: courts granting same-sex couples the right to marry. Twenty-four percent said they’re ‘not at all’ upset about gay marriage.”

A recent CBS/New York Times poll found “Tea Party supporters” more conservative than Americans in general on gay marriage. We may be seeing a difference between people who say they like the Tea Parties and those who actually turn out for Tea Party rallies, or possibly Tea Partiers in the Washington area are more socially liberal than they are in other regions.

In particular, the Politico/TargetPoint poll used some of the same questions, drawn from the Gallup Poll and other surveys, that Kirby and I have used to identify libertarians in our “libertarian vote” studies. Here’s the analysis from TargetPoint (emphases added):

IDEOLOGY

The Tea Party is, unsurprisingly, for small-government and cuts to taxes and spending; but there is a clear split when it comes to government promotion of moral values.

  • Overwhelming majorities of 88% and 81% say government is trying to do too many things best left to individuals and businesses, and that government should cut taxes and spending, respectively. But in terms of values, Tea Party attendees are split right down the middle. A slim majority of 51% say “Government should not promote any particular set of values”, versus 46% that say “Government should promote traditional family values in our society.”
  • We can compare these to Gallup data collected in September of 2009: nationally, 57% said government was doing too much (among Republicans it was 80%), while 53% said government should promote traditional values (among Republicans it was 67%). So the Tea Party is actually more conservative than national Republicans when it comes to the size and role of government, but less conservative than national Republicans in terms of government promotion of traditional values.
  • Indeed, combining the responses to some of these questions is a revealing ideological exercise: 43% of attendees said government is doing too much AND that government should promote traditional values, a distinctly conservative view; 42% said government is doing too much AND that government should NOT promote any particular set of values, an ideological view used by the Cato Institute as an indicator of libertarianism (currently 23% of all Americans fit into this category).
  • This split between a libertarian Tea Party and a socially conservative Tea Party is reinforced when we consider the combination of all three ideological questions we asked, questions on the size and role of government, the role of traditional values, and the dynamic between taxes and spending. If we count the number of times a respondent gave the “conservative” answer (government should do less, it should promote traditional values, and cut taxes and spending), 40% of Tea Party attendees gave the conservative answer all three times, and 42% gave the conservative answer only two times. Those that gave only two conservative responses were most likely to defect on the role of traditional values.

Anticipating criticisms, let me note that no survey is definitive, and few survey questions are definitive. It’s possible that some respondents would say “government should do more to solve our country’s problems” meaning that it should be cutting waste and reducing the national debt. And some people might understand “government should promote traditional values” to mean traditional values like self-reliance, thrift, and standing on your own too feet. But overall, I think these questions help us to separate broadly libertarian responses from conservatives and (social-democratic) liberals. And this poll suggests that Tea Partiers are not just conservative Republicans. At least some of them are more libertarian. Politicians trying to appeal to them should keep that in mind.

Are Libertarians a Political Force?

Some lively debate this week on our papers on the libertarian vote and on the broader questions of how many libertarians there are, whether they’re a voting bloc, and whether they might be targets for both parties. Ed Kilgore, managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, wrote in the New Republic that any possible alliance between liberals and libertarians is shown to have gone by the wayside in Cato’s new paper, “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama,” even though, he says, “ modern liberals and libertarians share common ideological roots in eighteenth and nineteenth century Anglo-American liberalism, … these groups have a sociocultural affinity,” and “New Democrats” are more sympathetic to libertarian arguments on technological progress and free trade. But they just can’t work together in the age of Obama.

In National Review John Zogby and Zeljka Buturovic present some interesting data and conclude, “For the most part, libertarians are a fraction within the conservative coalition — not a stand-alone movement.” They find that only 2 percent of poll respondents claim the label “libertarian,” and those people rate themselves firmly to the center-right on a 9-point scale. At the Corner I respond:

“Libertarian” is an unfamiliar word to most people, even people who actually hold broadly libertarian views. Rasmussen found that 4 percent identified themselves that way, and a Center for American Progress poll found 6 percent — but 13 percent of young people.

But there are other ways to measure libertarian sentiment….we found that 14 percent gave libertarian answers to all three questions. Gallup asks two questions — one on the size of government, one on “promoting traditional values” — every year and finds about 20 percent of respondents give libertarian answers to both questions (23 percent in 2009)….

On the second point, yes, we’ve found that the 14-15 percent of libertarian voters we identify usually vote about 70 percent Republican. But not always. … In 2004 George W. Bush got only 59 percent of the libertarian vote, and in 2006 libertarians gave only about 54 percent of their votes to Republican congressional candidates. … 

From the perspective of politicians and their advisers, I think it’s fair to say that these libertarians are a not-entirely-reliable part of the broad Republican constituency. After the 2006 election … the underreported story was a 24-point swing of libertarians away from Republican congressional candidates between 2002 and 2006. That’s a point Republican strategists — and Democrats — ought to ponder.

And there’s a footnote that might become main text in the next few years: In 2008, even as libertarians generally returned to the 70 percent Republican fold, young libertarians (18 to 29) gave a majority of their votes to Obama. Maybe these younger voters will come to their senses. Or maybe the Republican brand just isn’t very appealing to young voters (who are, for instance, strongly supportive of gay marriage and overwhelmingly supportive of gays in the military).

Find more data on the libertarian vote in the paper David Kirby and I did in 2006, “The Libertarian Vote,” or in our just-published paper, “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama,” or in this possibly corroborating data from the Tarrance Group, which found that 23 percent of respondents described themselves as fiscally conservative but liberal or moderate on social issues.

More Data on “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal” Voters

A study by the Tarrance Group for the Republican organization GOPAC provides further evidence on the existence of voters who don’t fall into the “conservative” or “liberal” box.  Tarrance asked people who voted in the 2008 election not just to label themselves conservative or liberal, but to describe their views on both fiscal and social issues. The questions were:

When thinking about fiscal issues, like taxes and government spending, do you consider yourself to be:
Very conservative, Somewhat conservative, Somewhat liberal, or Very liberal?

When thinking about social issues, like abortion and gay marriage, do you consider yourself to be:
Very conservative, Somewhat conservative, Somewhat liberal, or Very liberal?

Tarrance leaves out the “moderate” option, but a few respondents volunteer it.

The results were interesting. While 69 percent of respondents described themselves as conservatives on fiscal issues, only 53 percent said they were conservative on social issues. When you combine the responses, you find that 23 percent of respondents described themselves as fiscally conservative but liberal or moderate on social issues. That’s pretty close to the estimates of the libertarian vote that David Kirby and I presented in “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.” See pages 4-7, especially Figure 3, in the full study. Using fairly strict criteria, we declared 14 percent of the electorate to fall into the libertarian category. But three other studies yielded 23 to 26 percent who gave libertarian answers to questions about both fiscal and social issues.

Tarrance presented the results to GOPAC this way (the “moderate” category includes both those who volunteered the word moderate and those who declined to pick either liberal or conservative as a label):

Interestingly, these “fiscally conservative, socially moderate or liberal” respondents made up 17 percent of Republicans but 24 percent of Democrats – and 41 percent of ticket-splitters:

So a couple of interesting points to take away from this study (which was actually done right after the 2008 election but I only just learned about): First, conservative pundits have talked a lot over the past year about Gallup’s findings throughout 2009 that conservatives outnumbered both moderates and liberals, suggesting a slight shift to the right among Americans. The GOPAC study shows us that lots more Americans think of themselves as fiscal conservatives than as social conservatives. That’s a result that Ramesh Ponnuru, who regularly argues that Republicans win more votes on social conservatism than on economic conservatism, might ponder.

Second, as Kirby and I keep saying, there actually are libertarian-ish voters, who generally prefer less government in both economic and personal matters, and politicians, consultants, and pundits ought to pay attention to them.

Third, Tarrance found that 23 percent of likely voters declare themselves conservative on fiscal issues but not on social issues (and only 7 percent say they’re socially but not fiscally conservative, and they’re almost all Democrats), and that number is very close to numbers found by other pollsters. But when Zogby asked people, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?” 59 percent said yes. That’s a much larger number. Maybe the combination is particularly attractive – “best of both worlds.”

How Will the Independents Vote?

In a recent Cato study, “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama,”  authors David Boaz and David Kirby found that libertarian voters, who make up about 14 percent of the electorate, are a leading indicator of how independents will cast their ballots.

Appearing on Freedom Watch earlier this week, Boaz explained the results of the study, and what it means for the next election. Watch:

New Ideas for Stumbling Democrats

Terry Michael, former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, has some advice for Democrats wondering what to do with a Democratic party that can’t win Massachusetts – Jeffersonian liberalism:

We have met the new center, and it is us, the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll baby boomers and our younger Gen X siblings and children. Because of our advanced age, we are the “most likely voters” that pollsters and their political clients focus on.

That is precisely the opposite of what happened in the first year of the Obama administration.

The new center tilts liberal on social issues, like gay rights and abortion. It zigs left on national security, having seen two really bad elective wars in our lifetimes: Vietnam and Iraq. But it zags right on economic questions, empowered with the democratization of information, technology, and finance, eschewing one-size-fits-all fixes from Washington. The new center embraces individual choice in the marketplace….

Democrats need to free themselves from the AFL-CIO, K Street, DuPont Circle, share-the-wealth wing of the party and run to the center on money matters, while passionately playing to their base on social issues and vigorously pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy.

There’s an interesting echo there of something Michael Barone wrote today:

What Brooks has described as “the educated class” – shorthand for the elite, university-educated, often secular professionals who probably make up a larger share of the electorate in Massachusetts than in any other state – turned out in standard numbers and cast unenthusiastic votes for the Democrat….

Members of “the educated class” are pleased by Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and congressional Democrats’ bills addressing supposed global warming. They are puzzled by his reticence to advance gay rights but assume that in his heart he is on their side.

They support more tepidly the Democrats’ big government spending, higher taxes and health care bills as necessary to attract the votes of the less enlightened and well-off. For “the educated class,” such programs are, in the words of the late Sen. Pat Moynihan, “boob bait for the bubbas.”

Could it really be that a lot of Democratic voters don’t really like higher taxes and government-run health care, that they would respond favorably to a socially liberal, economically sensible program? We could only hope.

How Many Libertarian Voters Are There?

In our new study, David Kirby and I round up various estimates on the number of libertarian-leaning voters. Our own calculation, 14 percent, is actually the lowest estimate.

We use three questions on political values from the generally acknowledged gold standard of public opinion data, the surveys of the American National Election Studies, and find that 14 percent of respondents gave libertarian answers to all three questions. But other researchers have used somewhat looser criteria and found larger numbers of libertarians:

For more than a dozen years now, the Gallup poll has been using two broad questions to categorize respondents by ideology about economic and social freedom… Combining the responses to these two questions, Gallup consistently finds about 20 percent of respondents to be libertarian. In 2009 they found 23 percent libertarians, along with 18 percent liberals, 19 percent populists, and 31 percent conservatives (9 percent were unclassifiable).

In a 2008–2009 panel study, ANES asked [two] questions… If we define “libertarian”  as those who believe that the federal government should have less effect on Americans’ lives and do less to influence businesses, we get 25 percent of voters—slightly higher than Gallup’s 23 percent…

Finally, we commissioned Zogby International to ask our three ANES questions to 1,012 actual (reported) voters in the 2006 election… We asked half the sample, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?” We asked the other half of the respondents, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian?”

 The results surprised us. Fully 59 percent of the respondents said “yes” to the first question. That is, by 59 to 27 percent, poll respondents said they would describe themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

The addition of the word “libertarian” clearly made the question more challenging. What surprised us was how small the drop-off was. A healthy 44 percent of respondents answered “yes” to that question, accepting a self-description as “libertarian.”

We summed all that up in this handy but not necessarily helpful graph

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.