Gallup Finds More Libertarians in the Electorate

The Gallup Poll has a new estimate of the number of libertarians in the American electorate. In their 2015 Governance survey they find that 27 percent of respondents can be characterized as libertarians, the highest number it has ever found. The latest results also make libertarians the largest group in the electorate, as compared to 26 percent conservative, 23 percent liberal, and 15 percent populist.

For more than a dozen 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?

Combining the responses to those two questions, Gallup found the ideological breakdown of the public shown below. With these two broad questions, Gallup consistently finds about 20 percent of respondents to be libertarian, and the number has been risingLibertarians in the Electorate, 2000-2015.

Two years ago David Kirby found that libertarians made up an even larger portion of the Republican party.

So why isn’t all this supposed libertarian sentiment being reflected in candidates and elections? There have been plenty of analyses in the past week, including my own, about why Rand Paul didn’t attract this potentially large bloc of libertarian voters. Maybe people don’t see issues as equally salient; some libertarians may wish that Republicans weren’t so socially reactionary, but still vote Republican on the basis of economic issues. Some, as Lionel Shriver writes in the New York Times, feel “forced to vote Democratic because the Republican social agenda is retrograde, if not lunatic — at the cost of unwillingly endorsing cumbersome high-tax solutions to this country’s problems.” 

For now I just want to note that there are indeed a lot of voters who don’t fit neatly into the red and blue boxes. The word “libertarian” isn’t well known, so pollsters don’t find many people claiming to be libertarian. And usually they don’t ask. But a large portion of Americans hold generally libertarian views – views that might be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. 

David Brooks wrote recently that the swing voters in 2016 will be people who don’t think big government is the path to economic growth and don’t know why a presidential candidate would open his campaign at Jerry Falwell’s university. Those are the voters who push American politics in a libertarian direction. David Bier and Daniel Bier wrote last summer about how many policy issues show a libertarian trend over the past 30 years. Find a colorful chart illustrating their findings here.

Politics is often frustrating for libertarians, never more so than during this presidential election when the leading presidential candidates seem to be a protectionist nationalist with a penchant for insult, a self-proclaimed socialist, and a woman who proudly calls herself a “government junkie.” But polls show libertarian instincts in the electorate, just waiting for candidates who can speak to them. 

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

Posted on February 10, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Bernie and the Revolution

John Wagner of the Washington Post reports that Bernie Sanders rallies feature a playlist to back up that “political revolution” he keeps talking about:

Supporters of the senator from Vermont who arrive at events early are likely to hear “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by folkster Tracy Chapman. And “The Revolution Starts Now” by country rocker Steve Earle. And “Revolution” by reggae legend Bob Marley & the Wailers. And “Revolution” by Celtic punk band Flogging Molly….

There’s “Uprising,” by Muse; “Power to the People,” by the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; “Make a Change,” by Buckwheat Zydeco; and “Give the People What They Want,” by The O’Jays.

And as I read through his article, I kept waiting for the most famous “Revolution” song of all, by the Beatles. Apparently you won’t hear that at a Bernie Sanders rally. Now, my more music-savvy colleagues tell me that’s probably because the Beatles’ label, Apple Records, is very tight-fisted about rights. But I wonder if it just might be that John Lennon’s lyrics are a little too cautionary:

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan…

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.

Of course, Bernie hasn’t been carrying any pictures of Chairman Mao. But he did honeymoon in the Soviet Union – in 1988! – and in the 1960s he spent some time on an Israeli kibbutz run by a pro-Soviet group (Noam Chomsky called them “split between Stalinist and Trotskyite”). So that disparagement of Mao might be a little too close for comfort. Not to mention the skepticism about radical solutions and changing the Constitution. In fact, as he moves to a national campaign, maybe he should add a few songs from the American Revolution.

Posted on February 9, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

“The Libertarian Mind” in the New York Times

The writer Lionel Shriver, best known for her novel We Need to Talk about Kevin, cites The Libertarian Mind in a New York Times column today, about the difficulty of being a “disenfranchised…socially progressive economic conservative.” Shriver writes:

Yet whether it’s “leftist” or “rightist,” my catechism is consistent. The rubric to which those positions hew — we should be free to do whatever doesn’t impinge on the rights of others — forms the conceptual backbone of the United States. The Constitution is libertarian. To the extent that the unamended Constitution was flawed, it was more rigorous application of libertarian principles that would have abolish slavery and granted women’s suffrage. Libertarians were way ahead of the pack on decriminalizing homosexuality.

We can at least thank Rand Paul for nominally refurbishing libertarianism so that it is halfway respectable. But the real mystery is why American libertarianism was ever marginalized (and why they marginalized themselves). David Boaz encapsulates the essential idea in last year’s “The Libertarian Mind”: “You learn the essence of libertarianism in kindergarten: Don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, and keep your promises.”

Shriver goes on to endorse seatbelt and helmet laws, a higher minimum wage, gun control, and socialized medicine, a useful reminder to us more ideological sorts that even intelligent, well-informed voters don’t always fit into neat categories. But she does complain about being “repeatedly forced to vote Democratic because the Republican social agenda is retrograde, if not lunatic — at the cost of unwillingly endorsing cumbersome high-tax solutions to this country’s problems.” And she says:

Voters like me — who believe that environmental quality, health and safety, and security needn’t be purchased at the cost of our liberty, and who defend the right to make our own mistakes as a crucial aspect of being human — deserve political representation.

Exactly. And that’s a point we’ve been making here at the Cato Institute since our 1981 paper on liberal, conservative, libertarian, and populist perspectives right up through our recent work on “the libertarian vote.” It’s gratifying to see this additional confirmation that there are many voters out there who are “socially progressive economic conservatives,” or “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” or indeed broadly libertarian.

Posted on February 9, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cruz Makes Play for Libertarian Voters. Is Anybody Game?

As he moved from evangelical Iowa to fiscally conservative New Hampshire, Sen. Ted Cruz didn’t waste a minute in changing his tune.

In his Iowa victory speech Cruz gave a shout-out to libertarians, who are thick on the ground in New Hampshire. He declared, “That old Reagan coalition is coming back together, … conservatives and evangelicals and libertarian and Reagan Democrats all coming together as one, and that terrifies Washington, D.C.”

One friend asked on Twitter, “When was the last time a presidential candidate even mentioned the word #libertarian?” Well, Rand Paul and Ron Paul did, of course, and Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson. And so did Ronald Reagan, who said in various speeches just before he launched his 1976 campaign that “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” And so indeed did Barack Obama, once, in libertarian-leaning Wyoming in March 2008: “You can be liberal and a libertarian, or a conservative libertarian,” he told a crowd in Casper. But “there’s nothing conservative” about President George W. Bush’s antiterror policies. “There’s nothing Republican about that. Everybody should be outraged by that.”

Get beyond economics and some constitutional issues, and Cruz’s record is far less libertarian.

Still, libertarians are pleased when a candidate appeals to them by name. And with Sen. Rand Paul out of the race, the libertarian vote doesn’t have an obvious home.

That libertarian vote is bigger than Paul’s 5 percent in the Iowa caucuses. David Kirby and I found that 13 to 15 percent of American voters hold libertarian values on a range of questions. In three separate analyses Kirby found that libertarian strength among Republican voters had risen to between 34 and 41 percent by 2012. Paul’s father, Rep. Ron Paul, garnered 21 percent in the Iowa caucuses and 23 percent in New Hampshire, not far off that mark.

That’s why Cruz is now lowering the volume on social issues and trying to sound like Rand Paul. CNN reports, “Gone Wednesday morning was the vow to investigate Planned Parenthood. In was [Rand Paul’s] punchline about the White House tapping your cell phone.” He’s talking about the Fourth Amendment, eminent domain, and auditing the Federal Reserve. He’s downplaying the social issues that he emphasized in Iowa. (Maybe he’ll bring them back next week in South Carolina.)

But will libertarians buy it?

Cruz’s appeal to libertarians rests on his apparently strong commitment to free-market economics and the limited federal government established by the Constitution. He name-drops economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who are idolized in liberty circles. He filibusters against Obamacare, albeit without a coherent game plan. Just this week he introduced a bill to reinstate school choice in the District of Columbia. Compared with far less ideological establishment candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, or the megalomaniacal Donald Trump, he’s got an advantage.

Iowa gave Cruz one big selling point with libertarians. The Wall Street Journal exulted that he was the first candidate to win the caucuses without supporting the federal ethanol mandate. The ethanol industry and popular governor Terry Branstad spent millions to stop Cruz. Libertarians reveled in the victory over corporate welfare. As was once said of Grover Cleveland, they love him most for the enemies he has made.

Cruz talks a lot about his commitment to the Constitution and the constraints it places on government. He memorized and recited the Constitution as a teenager. His campaign website says, “Ted Cruz has spent a lifetime fighting to defend the Constitution [which] was crafted by our founding fathers to act as chains to bind the mischief of government and to protect the liberties endowed to us by our Creator.” Words to warm a libertarian heart.

Even there, though, a closer examination gives libertarians pause. Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute and Damon Root of Reason have pointed out that Cruz seems not to understand “the proper role of the courts in limiting legislative and executive excesses, federal, state, and local.” In both the seminal Lochner case of 1905 and the gay marriage case of 2015, Cruz has insisted that the Supreme Court defer to state legislative decisions rather than uphold individual rights.

Get beyond economics and some constitutional issues, and Cruz’s record is far less libertarian.

Take foreign policy. Cruz has tried to position himself between Republican uber-hawks such as Sens. John McCain and Rubio, and the non-interventionist positions of Rand Paul. He has questioned nation-building and the toppling of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. And the who has called gays “perverted,” “degenerate,” “spiritually darkened” and “frankly very sick people,” to campaign for him.

The night before the caucuses, making his final pitch to Iowans, Cruz brought Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson with him to Iowa City, and Robertson told the crowd that same-sex marriage “is evil. It’s wicked. It’s sinful….We have to run this bunch out of Washington, D.C. We have to rid the earth of them.” In November Cruz appeared at a “religious liberties” conference organized by pastor Kevin P. Swanson, who railed at the conference, as he had said many times before, “YES! Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. YES! Romans Chapter 1, Verse 32, the Apostle Paul does say that homosexuals are worthy of death….And I am willing to go to jail for standing on the truth of the word of God.”

Those are not alliances likely to appeal to libertarians, not to mention moderates, independents, swing voters, soccer moms, or anyone who wants a president with a modicum of judgment.

Ron Paul supporters and other libertarian-leaning voters may swoon when Cruz says, “There are a whole bunch of areas that the federal government has no business sticking its nose in. I will fight every day for you, for your freedom, for your right to run a small business, for economic growth and for keeping government the heck off your back.” But if they look more closely, he’s going to have some awkward conversations.

Posted on February 8, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses Donald Trump’s Iowa results and conservatism on Australia Broadcasting Corporation’s Between the Lines

Posted on February 4, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Rand Paul Would Have Enlarged GOP Tent

Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign has ended, like most presidential campaigns, short of the White House. The Republican debate will be poorer without him.

Polls show substantial support for libertarian ideas in the Republican Party. Gallup found that libertarian strength in the GOP had risen from 15% in 2002 to 34% in 2012. In two surveys in 2012 and 2013, David Kirby, then at FreedomWorks, found libertarians were 35% or 41% of the party.

Paul obviously didn’t capture that vote. The senator of Kentucky had trouble triangulating between his own strongly libertarian views and what he thought Republican voters, especially in evangelical Iowa, wanted. The rise of the Islamic State terrorist group and its bloody videos in the summer of 2014 made it more difficult to sell non-interventionist ideas on foreign policy. Donald Trump and Ted Cruzin different ways appealed to the angrier and more conservative-leaning segment of libertarians. And despite a news media perception that libertarians draw heavy support from billionaires, Paul attracted few of the seven-figure donations that flowed to Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton.

Republicans didn’t just lose a presidential candidate. They lost a chance to revive the party.

Both in the Senate and in the presidential race, Paul brought new ideas and a fresh perspective to the Republican debate. Most of the GOP candidates are just 50 shades of Reagan-Bush. Neoconservative, social conservative, establishment conservative — they all stayed in a pretty narrow lane on most issues.

Paul brought something new to the table. He said he wanted to “defend the whole Bill of Rights,” not just the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. He pushed Republicans to question the mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden. He joined Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to reform excessive prison sentences, which led to a bill introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and others that could well pass the Senate this spring.

On conservative talk shows and in front of all-white audiences, Paul repeatedly spoke like this: “There are many people in our country, particularly minorities, who aren’t being treated fairly. They’re not getting due process. They’re not getting a speedy trial. I think if we showed equal deference and love for the Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment, and the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy, all of a sudden, there’s a whole new group of people, young kids, college kids, African Americans — who are going to say, ‘You know what? That’s the party I want to belong to.’”

In his first Senate campaign in Kentucky, in 2010, he opposed the USA Patriot Act, saying that “America can successfully protect itself against potential terrorists without sacrificing civil liberties.” He drew cheers on the presidential campaign trail for declaring, “What you do on your cellphone is none of (the government’s) damn business.” He filibustered against the potential use of drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens in America, and again to block extension of the Patriot Act.

In his statement withdrawing from the presidential race, he said, “Big Government threatens Americans from all walks of life,” not just businesses and workers but also “the teenager from a poor family facing jail time for marijuana.” No other candidate in either party spent so much time talking about civil liberties issues.

On foreign policy, while the other candidates tried to top one another with uber-hawkishness — Trump’s “bomb the s—- out of them,” Cruz’s gleam at seeing whether “sand can glow in the dark,” Rubio’s proposal to send U.S. troops into yet another country — Paul cautioned that interventionism hadn’t worked very well in recent decades.

Perhaps unfortunately for his campaign, he blurred his message by denouncing President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and calling for a declaration of war against ISIL. But as the conservative writer Michael Brendan Dougherty pointed out, the senator eschewed the flat-out non-interventionism of his father for a sort of Fabian realism: “Paul often offers rhetorical hostility instead of sanctions, sanctions instead of conflict, and limited constitutionally authorized conflict instead of open-ended war.”

With Paul gone from the presidential race, so is the voice for realism and prudence in foreign policy. So is a passionate voice on criminal justice reform and overcriminalization.

And that revived Republican Party that Paul talked about, the one that “a whole new group of people, young kids, college kids, African Americans” might “want to belong to”? Well, between Trump’s immigrant-bashing and Cruz’s embrace of anti-gay hysteria, that has gone too, at least for this year.

The good news for libertarian-leaning voters — and for anyone who cares about out-of-control federal spending, the Bill of Rights, mass incarceration, mass surveillance or wars without end — is that Rand Paul is still a U.S. senator and likely to win another term this fall.

The White House’s loss will be the Senate’s gain. And, hopefully, America’s gain, as Paul continues his effort to rally Americans on these issues and to work with senators of both parties to make progress toward smaller government and more liberty.

Posted on February 3, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz’s article “Conservatives against Trump” is cited on WBUR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook

Posted on January 26, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Dowager Countess of Grantham Denounces Statism

Libertarian fans of Downton Abbey got a special treat last night when Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, let loose with an excoriation of statism right out of John Stuart Mill. Debating whether the village hospital should be merged into the larger regional hospital in 1925, Lady Grantham exclaimed:

For years I’ve watched governments take control of our lives, and their argument is always the same — fewer costs, greater efficiency. But the result is the same, too. Less control by the people, more control by the state until the individual’s own wishes count for nothing. That is what I consider my duty to resist….

The point of a so-called great family is to protect our freedoms. That is why the barons made King John sign Magna Carta.

Rosamund: Mama, we’re not living in 1215. And the strength of great families like ours is going, that’s just fact. 

Countess: Your great-grandchildren won’t thank you when the state is all-powerful because we didn’t fight.

Of course, the Dowager Countess is not a libertarian, nor a liberal, but a reactionary aristocrat. Still, libertarian ideas crop up wherever people feel their liberties being infringed. And such ideas were being enunciated by genuine liberals in that era. An editorial in The Nation in 1900, thought to have been written by its founding editor E. L. Godkin, mourned the decline of liberty and liberalism:

To the principles and precepts of Liberalism the prodigious material progress of the [19th century] was largely due.  Freed from the vexatious meddling of governments, men devoted themselves to their natural task, the bettering of their condition, with the wonderful results which surround us.  But it now seems that its material comfort has blinded the eyes of the present generation to the cause which made it possible.  In the politics of the world, Liberalism is a declining, almost a defunct force. 

Liberalism was giving way, he said, to the forces of socialism and imperialism; and “international struggles on a terrific scale” were the likely result, struggles that indeed had already begun by 1925 and would only get worse in the lives of Lady Grantham’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Her case against hospital consolidation reminds me of John Stuart Mill’s “objections to government interference” in On Liberty:

The objections to government interference, when it is not such as to involve infringement of liberty, may be of three kinds.

The first is, when the thing to be done is likely to be better done by individuals than by the government. Speaking generally, there is no one so fit to conduct any business, or to determine how or by whom it shall be conducted, as those who are personally interested in it. This principle condemns the interferences, once so common, of the legislature, or the officers of government, with the ordinary processes of industry….

The second objection is more nearly allied to our subject. In many cases, though individuals may not do the particular thing so well, on the average, as the officers of government, it is nevertheless desirable that it should be done by them, rather than by the government, as a means to their own mental education—a mode of strengthening their active faculties, exercising their judgment, and giving them a familiar knowledge of the subjects with which they are thus left to deal…. Without these habits and powers, a free constitution can neither be worked nor preserved, as is exemplified by the too-often transitory nature of political freedom in countries where it does not rest upon a sufficient basis of local liberties. The management of purely local business by the localities, and of the great enterprises of industry by the union of those who voluntarily supply the pecuniary means, is further recommended by all the advantages which have been set forth in this Essay as belonging to individuality of development, and diversity of modes of action. Government operations tend to be everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary associations, on the contrary, there are varied experiments, and endless diversity of experience….

The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government, causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and converts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the public into hangers-on of the government, or of some party which aims at becoming the government. 

If Lady Grantham had not read Mill – her granddaughter Lady Mary said last night that aristocratic young ladies were taught only “French, prejudice and dance steps” – we can be sure that the show’s creator Julian Fellowes did. So three cheers for Julian Fellowes and his injection of Millian liberty into television drama.

It’s interesting that the New York Times recapper noticed Lady Grantham’s speech, while the Wall Street Journal did not.

Posted on January 25, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Conservatives against Trump

A lot of Americans think it would be better to have a businessman than a politician as president, and I sympathize with them. Alas, the only businessmen crazy enough to run for president seem to be, well, crazy. At least Ross Perot kept his craziness confined mostly to private matters, such as the looming disruption of his daughter’s wedding. Donald Trump puts it front and center.

From a libertarian point of view — and I think serious conservatives and liberals would share this view—Trump’s greatest offenses against American tradition and our founding principles are his nativism and his promise of one-man rule.

Trump’s greatest offenses against American tradition and our founding principles are his nativism and his promise of one-man rule.

Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign. Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America. America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone.

Equally troubling is his idea of the presidency—his promise that he’s the guy, the man on a white horse, who can ride into Washington, fire the stupid people, hire the best people, and fix everything. He doesn’t talk about policy or working with Congress. He’s effectively vowing to be an American Mussolini, concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat. It’s a vision to make the last 16 years of executive abuse of power seem modest.

Without even getting into his past support for a massive wealth tax and single-payer health care, his know-nothing protectionism, or his passionate defense of eminent domain, I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan.

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Conservatives and a Lone Libertarian Take on Donald Trump

National Review cover Today I join some 20 other writers in making the case against Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. The venerable National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., assembled a group of diverse critics to argue that Trump is not a conservative, not an advocate of limited government, but rather (as the editorial asserts) “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

The symposium is understandably being described in the media as “conservative thought leaders take on Trump.” I of course consider myself a libertarian, as my book The Libertarian Mind would indicate, and not a conservative. But part of the impact of this symposium is that people of such widely varying views – I have a lot of disagreements with religious rightist Cal Thomas and neoconservative Bill Kristol – nevertheless regard Trump as dangerous. 

In my own contribution I emphasize two points:

From a libertarian point of view — and I think serious conservatives and liberals would share this view—Trump’s greatest offenses against American tradition and our founding principles are his nativism and his promise of one-man rule.

Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign. Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America. America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone. Equally troubling is his idea of the presidency—his promise that he’s the guy, the man on a white horse, who can ride into Washington, fire the stupid people, hire the best people, and fix everything. He doesn’t talk about policy or working with Congress. He’s effectively vowing to be an American Mussolini, concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat. It’s a vision to make the last 16 years of executive abuse of power seem modest.

This isn’t my first sally against Trump. After hearing him in person at FreedomFest in July, I wrote about his nationalism, protectionism, and megalomania in the Washington Times. And in August I reviewed his support for and use of eminent domain at the Guardian.

The National Review symposium was posted last night at 10 p.m., and I took note of it on Facebook and Twitter. It drew a lot of reaction. And I must say, I was surprised by how many of the responses, especially on Twitter, were openly racist and anti-Semitic. That did nothing to make me reconsider my deep concerns about the damage Trump is doing, and could do, to America’s libertarian heritage.

Posted on January 22, 2016  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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