Libertarian Discontent is an Underreported Political Story

Everyone always emphasizes the evangelical Right as running the Republican Party, but David Kirby and David Boaz -- writing in TCS -- argue that Republicans ignore the libertarian vote at their peril:

In the past, our research shows, most libertarians voted Republican -- 72 percent for George W. Bush in 2000, for instance, with only 20 percent for Al Gore, and 70 percent for Republican congressional candidates in 2002. But in 2004, presumably turned off by war, wiretapping, and welfare-state spending sprees, they shifted sharply toward the Democrats. John F. Kerry got 38 percent of the libertarian vote. That was a dramatic swing that Republican strategists should have noticed. But somehow the libertarian vote has remained hidden in plain sight.

This year we commissioned a nationwide post-election survey of 1013 voters from Zogby International. We again found that 15 percent of the voters held libertarian views. We also found a further swing of libertarians away from Republican candidates. In 2006, libertarians voted 59-36 for Republican congressional candidates -- a 24-point swing from the 2002 mid-term election. To put this in perspective, front-page stories since the election have reported the dramatic 7-point shift of white conservative evangelicals away from the Republicans. The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large.

Based on the turnout in 2004, Bush's margin over Kerry dropped by 4.8 million votes among libertarians. Had he held his libertarian supporters, he would have won a smashing reelection rather than squeaking by in Ohio.

President Bush and the congressional Republicans left no libertarian button unpushed in the past six years: soaring spending, expansion of entitlements, federalization of education, cracking down on state medical marijuana initiatives, Sarbanes-Oxley, gay marriage bans, stem cell research restrictions, wiretapping, incarcerating U.S. citizens without a lawyer, unprecedented executive powers, and of course an unnecessary and apparently futile war. The striking thing may be that after all that, Democrats still looked worse to a majority of libertarians.


If Republicans can't win New Hampshire and the Mountain West, they can't win a national majority. And they can't win those states without libertarian votes. They're going to need to stop scaring libertarian, centrist, and independent voters with their social-conservative obsessions and become once again the party of fiscal responsibility. In a Newsweek poll just before the election, 47 percent of respondents said they trusted the Democrats more on "federal spending and the deficit," compared to just 31 percent who trusted the Republicans. That's not Ronald Reagan's Republican Party. (Emphasis mine.)

Read the whole thing.

I am honest enough to recognize that libertarian vote is not massive even in this country. Kirby and Boaz's data suggest that at most we constitute about 15% of the electorate, with more having libertarian leanings. However, I would like to think that we constitute a significant part of the electorate in that we are both consistent and consistently swing voters. In that sense we have power.

Intrusive meddling into science and health has always made me feel alienated from large parts of the Republican establishment. At least for the moment those aspects of the establishment are in power, but the Republicans who continue in that trend are going to find themselves with much fewer friends than they started with.

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the difference between libertarians and the religious right is that forming a 'movement' out of the former is like 'herding cats.' the religious right has prebuilt institutions in their churches and what not. but, libertarians have long been spoilers in state-wide elections for years in the form of the Libertarian Party, they regularly have done to republicans what nader did to gore in 2000.

It strikes me as odd that libertarians, with their emphasis on voluntary association, should be lax in forming a 'movement.'

By bob koepp (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

in my personal experience as a libertarian, the rank order of preference among libertarians is

voluntary non-association > voluntary association > involuntary association

most humans find preference for #1 strange, so you can't really use it as a pitch, unless libertarian wants to sell itself as a hermit-centered movement. i have been to CATO events (david is an acquaintance of mine) and my own personal experience is that 1/2 of attendees are fat-cats and 1/2 are really strange nutsos (e.g., the representative from the drug-legalization party from naples who i sat next to during a fareed zakaria talk 3 years ago at the same table as david).

and just to be clear, the italian guy was really nice. just not really someone who would be good in regards to forming grass roots mobilization. on the other hand, prolly better than the oil baron who was trying to network so as get better access to concessions in the russian federation who sat across from us.

As a libertarian and an atheist, I am often surprised and discouraged to find myself a member of one of the least understood and most distrusted minorities in America, so in reading the Kirby/Boaz article I can't help but feel that their warning to the heads of the Republican party is falling on deaf ears. It's not just that most politicians ignore libertarian voters, it really appears as though they lack the philosophic vocabulary to identify us.

By atlas1882 (not verified) on 11 Dec 2006 #permalink

Yes, libertarian discontent with Republicans is an under-reported story. But the "Libertarian Democrat Alliance" story is the most hyped bunch of garbage of the year.

The Republican Liberty Caucus which represents the GOP's libertarian wing just had one of its most successful years in the group's 15-year history. According to RLC Chairman Bill Westmiller, an astounding 80% of all RLC-backed candidates were elected in 2006. And this number included a bunch of Newbie elected officials like Cong. Vern Buchanan from Florida, and a host of libertarian legislators around the Nation in states like New Hampshire and Montana.

In addition, two solidly libertarian Governors were elected, Mark Sanford in SC, and Butch Otter in Idaho, and two libertarian-leaning Governors also won elections, Sarah Palin in Alaska and Charlie Crist in Florida. Crist's running mate Rep. Jeff Kottkamp was even labeled a "libertarian free marketeer" by the Palm Beach Post.

Are you hearing any stories about the great successes of the libertarian Republicans? That's the under reported story of the year.

But of course, it's too the liberal media's advantage to play up a split in the GOP, to lure libertarians away from the GOP's fold.

It ain't gonna happen. If anything we libertarians see even greater opportunity now for our wing of the GOP with social conservatives smarting a bit from the election results.

Eric, CEO at