A few weeks ago I read Brink Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture. One strange thing is that because I’ve watched Brink on BloggingHeads.TV on occasion could hear the prose with his particular cadence and delivery. Really weird. In any case, The Age of Abundance is a social history of the 20th century which makes the case that despite the persistence of a partisan divide our culture has operationally congealed around a rough libertarian consensus. In short, a free market of money and lifestyle choices. I think there is a strong argument that can be made for this, as evidenced by Matt Yglesias’ qualified admission as to the rapprochement between the Left and the market, or the phenomenon of South Park Conservatism.
But despite what the folks over at CATO would prefer, the reality remains that libertarianism is a marginal phenomenon in terms of feet on the ground. It isn’t a mass movement. Libertarians are highly concentrated among young well educated secular males. People like Will Wilkinson. I was struck by this while reading a post by Andrew Gelman, Ranking states by the liberalism/conservatism of their voters. There are several great charts in this post, but if you divide the ideological map into 4 quadrants, here are the numbers of states in each zone:
Liberal = 15 (socially & economically liberal)
Conservative = 21 (socially & economically conservative)
Authoritarian = 7 (socially conservative & economically liberal)
Libertarian = 4 (socially liberal & economically conservative)
(Alaska and Hawaii not in the chart, and excluded North Carolina since it seemed to straddle)
Gelman’s whole post is worth reading, go check the figures out at his site. I will note that binning the states into the categories as I have overstate the representation of libertarianism; the libertarian states were marginal cases. The authoritarian quadrant has more extreme exemplars (West Virginia and Kentucky), while the liberal and conservative sectors exhibit a full distribution from leaners all the way to the very liberal and conservative.