Monday, November 4, 2013

Libertarians in America

There are some very interesting findings in this recent American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America, from the Public Religion Research Institute. (H/T to Mario Piperni)

The survey identifies libertarians through their answers to a series of questions in regard to economic policy, personal liberty, and foreign affairs. Answers at one end of the scale are considered libertarian; answers at the other are considered communalist. In other words, 'communalists' are just people with the opposite beliefs to libertarians.

Note that 'communalism' isn't exactly a made-up word, but there seem to be many different definitions of it, most of which don't apply here. Here, it's just the opposite to libertarianism. After all, we don't really seem to have a word for that, do we? In an online search, the only antonym I could find is necessitarianism, which doesn't seem to apply at all.

Maybe that's why we hear so much about libertarians these days, when their exact opposite is at least as numerous in America:

According to a newly developed Libertarian Orientation Scale, less than 1-in-10 (7%) Americans are consistent libertarians, and an additional 15% lean libertarian. At the other end of the spectrum, an equal number of Americans are consistent communalists (7%), and an additional 17% lean communalist. A majority (54%) of Americans have a mixed ideological profile, falling in between libertarian and communalist orientations.

I knew that libertarians were a small minority in America, and I expected that most of us would end up somewhere in the middle, but I guess I wouldn't have expected that consistent 'communalists' were equally as numerous as consistent libertarians, and that even more Americans lean communalist than lean libertarian.

That's surprising, isn't it? Think about the rhetoric in American politics these days. 'Socialist' is what you call your opponent just before you compare him to Hitler or accuse him of being the Anti-Christ. The debate has swung so far to the right that even 'liberal' has become a dirty word. (Admittedly, 'libertarian' isn't the same thing as 'conservative,' though it often seems so.)

Obviously, the exact numbers depend on where you divide the responses. What do you decide is the cutoff between "consistent" and "lean" libertarian? What do you decide is "lean," rather than "mixed"? None of that is very precise, nor can it be.

But the fact that there are at least as many people who have the exact opposite ideas to libertarianism as there are libertarians,... that's really significant, don't you think? But we don't seem to hear a peep out of those people. They don't seem to get noticed at all.

(For the record, I took this survey myself and ended up as "lean communalist." That seems about right. Certainly, I tend to reject libertarianism.)

The rest of the survey was interesting, too. Some things didn't surprise me at all:
Nearly all libertarians are non-Hispanic whites (94%), more than two-thirds (68%) are men, and more than 6-in-10 (62%) are under the age of 50.

Other things were interesting, but not too unexpected:
Libertarians make up a smaller proportion of the Republican Party than other key conservative groups.  Only 12% of self-identified Republicans are libertarians, compared to 20% of Republicans who identify with the Tea Party, 33% who identify with the religious right or conservative Christian movement, and 37% who identify as white evangelical Protestant.

Yeah, that's why Ron Paul could never make any headway in the GOP primaries. Libertarians are a very small proportion of Republicans - more than in the general population, true, but still pretty small. They're very loud, but they're a distinct minority.

But I was more surprised by other findings:
  • Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) libertarians oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, a proportion identical to the general population. ...
  • Seven-in-ten (70%) libertarians favor allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives. ...
  • More than 7-in-10 (71%) libertarians favor legalizing marijuana. ...
  • Unlike most other social issues, libertarians remain socially conservative on same-sex marriage. While a majority (59%) of libertarians oppose same-sex marriage, they are significantly less opposed than Republicans overall (67%) and than other conservative-leaning groups such as Tea Party members (73%) and white evangelical Protestants (80%).

With the first three issues, I was surprised that the numbers were so low. I mean, 96% of libertarians oppose 'Obamacare,' but only 71% favor legalizing marijuana? And when it comes to letting women control their own bodies, libertarians are no different from the general population. (Of course, remember that more than two-thirds of libertarians are men.)

But it's that last issue that just floors me. 59% of libertarians oppose same-sex marriage? How in the world does that make any sense?

Of course, these aren't self-described libertarians. These are people who actually hold libertarian views on a variety of issues. (In fact, the question about legalizing marijuana was one of the questions they used to identify libertarians in the first place. So it seems especially surprising to see that get only 71% support, doesn't it?)

Anyway, I thought the whole thing was very interesting. It really makes you think, wouldn't you agree?

Libertarians tend to be young, at least compared to other Republicans. And like other Republicans, they're almost entirely non-Hispanic white and more than two-thirds men. But even within the GOP, they're a small minority. And in America as a whole, there are at least as many - if not more - people who hold completely opposite views.

But libertarians are loud. They're organized, they're angry, and they have a lot of money behind them, while their opposites don't even have a name to call themselves. (I doubt if you could get a majority to agree with 'communalist,' don't you?)

Furthermore, there's this:
Libertarians are much more likely than Americans overall to pay attention to what is going on in government and politics. Fewer than 4-in-10 (38%) Americans report paying attention to politics and government most of the time or always. About 1-in-5 (19%) Americans say they pay attention about half of the time, roughly one-third (32%) say they pay attention some of the time and 10% say they do not pay any attention.

Among libertarians, a majority (56%) report that they pay attention to politics always or most of the time. Libertarians and members of the Tea Party are equally likely to report regular engagement with politics.

As the survey goes on to note, only 41% of Americans always vote in primary elections (a national disgrace!). More Republicans than Democrats vote in primaries (and more Republicans than Democrats are even registered to vote). But 53% of libertarians always vote in primaries (and 62% of Tea Party members). That gives them a real advantage in the GOP.

And there's this, too:
Nearly 9-in-10 (89%) libertarians have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party, including nearly two-thirds (64%) who have a very unfavorable opinion of the party.

Maybe the opposite of "libertarian" is "Democrat"? :)

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