More Data on “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal” Voters by David Boaz

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): Read more...

Posted on January 29, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

George Will on Obama by David Boaz

In the Washington Post and many other papers today, in re the State of the Union:
Obama's leitmotif is: Washington is disappointing, Washington is annoying, Washington is dysfunctional, Washington is corrupt, verily Washington is toxic -- yet Washington should conscript a substantially larger share of GDP, and Washington should exercise vast new controls over health care, energy, K-12 education, etc.
Mark your calendar for May 13, when George Will keynotes the biennial Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty Dinner here in Washington. I anticipate similarly acerbic analysis.

Posted on January 29, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Collective Property Rights in Avatar? by David Boaz

In response to my Los Angeles Times op-ed on the movie "Avatar," in which I claim that conservative critics missed the central conflict over property rights, I've received some emails arguing that the Na'vi in the film lacked "well-defined property rights" or simply that a collective group cannot have rights to the property they live on. So I went to some smarter guys to ask them what they thought about "collective property rights." The political philosopher Tom G. Palmer (best known as an activist and traveling troubadour of liberty [see pictures in this very large pdf] but also a deep thinker about liberty, as seen in his new book Realizing Freedom) says:
Just because people did not have English freehold property rights is no reason to chase them off land to which they held a clear customary right.  Some people seem to assume that only English freehold counts as property, by which they mean individual property.  But there is family property, village property, and many other forms of property, which are defined by the exclusion of others.  (Elinor Ostrom has written extensively on how common property arrangements are governed and when they are efficient, and when not.)  The critique of "collective property" is certainly not Lockean.  In the Second Treatise's chapter on property (paragraph 28) he writes (not entirely clearly), "We see in commons, which remain so by compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use." Then in paragraph 35, he notes, "It is true, in land that is common in England, or any other country, where there is plenty of people under government, who have money and commerce, no one can inclose or appropriate any part, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners; because this is left common by compact, i. e. by the law of the land, which is not to be violated. And though it be common, in respect of some men, it is not so to all mankind; but is the joint property of this country, or this parish." Thus Locke would say that the Na'vi, even if they do not have any separate plots, have a joint property in the land, "And though it be common, in respect of some men, it is not so to all mankind; but is the joint property of this country, or this parish."
David Henderson, editor of the Concise Encylopedia of Economics, discussed this point about "collective property" in his own essay on "Avatar":
Now, [Ed] Hudgins could argue that the analogy with the Kelo decision doesn’t make sense because this is tribal property, not individual property. OK. So imagine that some civilization more technologically advanced than ours discovers that there’s a rare mineral below the hills and mountains of Yosemite, which, in a sense, is tribal property. Our government has refused to sell. To get at the mineral, this other "civilization" must blast and bulldoze Yosemite down to nothing. If that more advanced group comes in and uses violence to grab Yosemite, would Hudgins say that was fine? I think not.
As I noted originally, "At least for human beings, private property rights are a much better way to secure property and prosperity. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear that the land belongs to the Na'vi, not the Sky People." P.S. For a French version of my article, click here. At UnMondeLibre you'll find many more ideas about liberty, too.

Posted on January 28, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Double-Teaming the State of the Union by David Boaz

While my colleagues are live-blogging President Obama's speech right here tonight, I'll be talking about the speech both before and afterward with Neal Cavuto and John Stossel on the Fox Business Network. You have a computer AND a television; you can watch both.

Posted on January 27, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

‘Avatar’ Is about Property Rights by David Boaz

In the Los Angeles Times today, I write about "Avatar", which has just become the biggest-grossing movie in Hollywood history, and how conservatives have missed the issue at its core:
Conservatives see this as anti-American, anti-military and anti-corporate or anti-capitalist. But they're just reacting to the leftist ethos of the film. They fail to see what's really happening. People have traveled to Pandora to take something that belongs to the Na'vi: their land and the minerals under it. That's a stark violation of property rights, the foundation of the free market and indeed of civilization.... "Avatar" is like a space opera of the Kelo case, which went to the Supreme Court in 2005. Peaceful people defend their property against outsiders who want it and who have vastly more power. Jake rallies the Na'vi with the stirring cry "And we will show the Sky People that they cannot take whatever they want! And that this is our land!"
Economists may wonder about the claim that "Avatar" is the highest-grossing film of all time. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that so far it may only have sold half as many tickets as the 1997 "Titanic," and Box Office Mojo says that adjusted for inflation "Gone with the Wind" remains the movie with the highest U.S. revenue, followed by "Star Wars."

Posted on January 26, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

New Ideas for Stumbling Democrats by David Boaz

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.

Posted on January 25, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Many Senators Are More Liberal than the Socialist One? by David Boaz

In a profile of the poetry-reading chief of staff to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the Washington Post calls Sanders not only "the only socialist in the U.S. Congress," but also "surely [the Senate's] most liberal [member]." Surely. I mean, he's a socialist, right? (And by the way, that isn't a label that Sanders rejects.) Well, maybe not. According to the National Taxpayers Union, 42 senators in 2008 voted to spend more tax dollars than socialist Bernie Sanders. They include his neighbor Pat Leahy; Californians Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who just can't understand why their home state is in fiscal trouble; and the Eastern Seaboard anti-taxpayer Murderers' Row of Kerry, Dodd, Lieberman, Clinton, Schumer, Lautenberg, Menendez, Carper, Biden, Cardin, and Mikulski. Don't carry cash on Amtrak! Not to mention Blanche Lambert Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who apparently think Arkansans don't pay taxes so federal spending is free. Sen. Barack Obama didn't vote often enough to get a rating in 2008, but in 2007 he managed to be one of the 11 senators who voted for more spending than the socialist senator. Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union rated 11 senators more liberal than Sanders in 2008, including Biden, Boxer, Feinstein, and again the georgraphically confused Mark Pryor. The Republican Liberty Caucus declared 14 senators, including Sanders, to have voted 100 percent anti-economic freedom in 2008, though Sanders voted better than 31 colleagues in support of personal liberties.  The liberal Americans for Democratic Action provides more support for the Post's claim, rating Sanders 100 percent liberal. Most raters, though, don't see it that way. In this compilation of ratings from left-leaning interest groups, 17 senators get higher scores than Sanders. It almost seems that an avowed socialist is middle-of-the-road among Senate Democrats.

Posted on January 24, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Many Libertarian Voters Are There? by David Boaz

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

Posted on January 22, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Debating the Libertarian Vote by David Boaz

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.

Posted on January 22, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama by David Boaz

Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts seems to reflect some of the trends David Kirby and I note in our new study, "The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama," released today. We wrote, "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." That seems to have happened in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts. Young voters, whom we examine in the study, also seem to have moved sharply in Massachusetts from heavy support for Obama in 2008 to slightly less strong support for Brown this week. Using our strict screen based on American National Election Studies data, we find that 14 percent of voters were libertarian in 2008. Other analysts using broader criteria find larger numbers. Gallup calculates the distribution of ideology every year and found that libertarians made up 23 percent of respondents in their 2009 survey. Our analysis of data from a 2007 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that people with libertarian views were 26 percent of respondents. And a Zogby poll found that 59 percent of Americans would describe themselves as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal," while 44 percent would accept the description "fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian." Libertarian voters swung away from Bush and the GOP in 2004 and 2006, but in 2008 they swung back, voting for McCain by 71 to 27 percent, presumably because the prospect of a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress in the midst of a financial crisis was frightening to small-government voters. Also, while many libertarian intellectuals had a real antipathy to McCain, the typical libertarian voter saw McCain as an independent, straight-talking maverick who was a strong opponent of earmarks and pork-barrel spending and never talked about social issues. One encouraging point in the study: libertarians may be becoming more organized. In our 2006 study we wrote, "Social conservatives have evangelical churches, the Christian Coalition, and Focus on the Family. . . . Liberals have unions. . . . Libertarians have think tanks." In the past three years, however, libertarians have become a more visible, organized force in politics, particularly as campaigns move online. Note the Ron Paul campaign and the heavy libertarian involvement in the widespread and decentralized "Tea Party" movement. The new study also includes new data on young libertarian voters, Ron Paul voters, libertarians and abortion, "secular centrist" voters, and how libertarians voted for Congress in the past five elections.

Posted on January 21, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.

Commentator

Search