Who’s A Real Libertarian Now?

A new survey shows that libertarians are fully capable of throwing any election in their direction. Now if we can just get politicians to live up to libertarian ideals.

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T.J. Kirkpatrick / Getty Images

U.S. Senator Rand Paul on March 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

When the folks behind the 2013 American Values Survey (AVS) went “In Search of Libertarians” for their latest national poll, they didn’t just stumble across a small, energetic, and increasingly influential group of people in politics, culture, and business who are dedicated to minimal government intervention in political and personal affairs. No, the researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute found themselves smack dab in the middle of an ideological civil war over control of the Republican Party and, quite possibly, the direction of the country as a whole. Given that everyone from The Washington Post to NPR to The Atlantic are talking about some variation on “America’s Libertarian Moment,” attention must be paid.

The American Values Survey is based on responses gathered in late September and early October from a representative group of about 2,300 adults. The researchers used answers to questions about national security, economics, and “personal liberty” to create a “Libertarian Orientation Scale.” By such measures, 7 percent of Americans are “consistent libertarians” and another 15 percent “lean libertarian,” meaning they oppose increased government spending on things such as military operations and domestic surveillance, raising the minimum wage, and environmental regulations.

Such fiscal conservativism is matched by social liberalism, with libertarians in favor of legalizing marijuana, protecting abortion rights, allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs, and keeping the Internet unregulated. Libertarians are much more likely than most Americans to be male, white, and under 50 years old. They are also far less likely than most Americans to be religious and to think that religion has a place in politics. This puts them at odds with “other key Republican base groups” such as the Tea Party movement and white evangelical Protestants.

(MORE: 8 Things We Won’t Miss When Pot Is Legal Everywhere)

As befits people who put a high value on individualism, libertarians don’t fit easily into existing political categories even as they are far more likely to pay close attention to politics than the average American (56 percent of libertarians versus just 38 percent) and to always vote in primary elections. “The Libertarian Orientation Scale and traditional measures of political ideology that run along a liberal-conservative axis are only weakly correlated,” according to the survey.

That means that the 22 percent of Americans who are consistent libertarians or lean libertarian are fully capable of throwing any election in their direction. That makes them the true wild cards of American politics. A majority of libertarians describe themselves as independent (35 percent), affiliated with a third party (15 percent), or as Democrats (5 percent), with the remaining 45 percent calling themselves Republicans.

Which is a big reason why calling oneself a libertarian – or allowing oneself to be described as such – has become so popular for politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul’s anti-drone filibuster in March became a massive, global Twitter sensation and jump-started a national conversation about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, President Obama’s “kill list,” and other civil liberties concerns.

It was explicitly libertarian in attacking unchecked state power and it drew plaudits from across the political spectrum, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) actually participating and people from left-wing, anti-war groups such as Code Pink and left-wing journalists such as Glenn Greenwald voicing support. Similarly, Paul’s principled and consistent criticism of military intervention in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere similarly has wide appeal beyond the GOP even as it challenges the party’s pro-war bona fides.

(MORE: Rand Paul: Why I Plan to Grill Yellin)

Paul’s libertarian rhetoric suggests one path forward for the Republican Party, even if Paul himself is not a pitch-perfect spokesman. He is, after all, an outspoken opponent of abortion who believes life begins at conception and his views on pot legalization and same-sex marriage leave a lot to be desired from a minimal government perspective. As does his endorsement of and campaigning for Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who has called for reinstating sodomy laws struck down by the Supreme Court and is not simply against gay marriage but declared in 2009 that “homosexual acts are wrong and should not be accomodated in government policy.” While evangelicals and even Tea Party types might rally around such notions, there’s just no way to spin such positions as in any way, shape, or form libertarian. Yet Cuccinelli, the Old Dominion’s current attorney general, insists that he is “indisputably the strongest liberty candidate ever elected statewide in Virginia in my lifetime” and Paul has critiqued Cuccinelli’s opponent and Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis for suggesting new forms of taxation. “Not a very libertarian idea,” sniffs Paul.

Still, according to the AVS, libertarians are far more favorable toward Paul than other leading Republicans such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and Rep. Paul Ryan. But Paul’s willingness to stump for candidates such as Cuccinelli and his willingness to pander to evangelicals surely makes many libertarians wary of either joining up with or staying inside a Republican Party whose rhetorical commitment to limited government has never been matched by its actual policies. If the Republicans can’t figure out a way to accommodate broadly popular, socially tolerant libertarian policies on gay rights, drug legalization, and more, they will not just lose the race for the White House in 2016, but quite possibly their status as a major party.

After a dozen-plus years of government mismanagement of the economy, foreign policy, and basic civil liberties under Republicans and Democrats, a record number of Americans rightly believe that the government has too much power. Libertarians are young, intense, principled, and highly engaged in politics. They are going to be around for a long time to come, and in ever-larger numbers. The only question left unanswered is who they will vote for.

19 comments
k.kaprow
k.kaprow

Yes, yes, libertarians are having a "moment." It's the "libertarian moment" now. Don't blink or you'll mi--

Oops. Too late. It's gone.

HansBader
HansBader

One claim in the above article is erroneous: The false claim that "Ken Cuccinelli has called for reinstating sodomy laws struck down by the Supreme Court."

No, he didn't.  This claim is based on a misinterpretation of Cuccinelli's briefs in the MacDonald case, which didn't involve sex between consenting adults at all.

In that case, the Virginia attorney general’s office asked the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision overturning the conviction of a 47-year-old man for soliciting sex with a minor.  Attorney General Cuccinelli never asked the Supreme Court to reverse its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, nor did he ask it to allow Virginia to ban sodomy among consenting adults.  In the Lawrence decision, the Supreme Court did not invalidate the sodomy laws in their entirety, but rather as applied to among consenting adults in private, as law professors like Kevin Walsh have noted.

As the Associated Press reported, regarding Cuccinelli’s argument: "In 2005, a judge convicted William Scott MacDonald of criminal solicitation for allegedly demanding oral sex from a 17-year-old girl. . . .Virginia officials said the Texas ruling  did not apply to sex acts between adults and minors. The lower court rejected that interpretation and justices won't reconsider that decision."

After the Lawrence decision,Virginia prosecutors – not Cuccinelli – kept on prosecuting people for things like non-consensual sodomy, sex in public, and sodomy with minors.  The Virginia attorney general’s office then defended these convictions after they were challenged in federal court, as is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s office.  State attorney generals of both parties have defended similar convictions.

Cuccinelli argued that non-consensual sex, and sex with minors, could validly be punished by state sodomy laws -- an argument accepted by most state appeals courts after the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision (like the Texas appeals court decision in the Ochoa case), but not by the federal appeals court in Virginia, the Fourth Circuit, which rejected the argument of the Virginia attorney general’s office.

All of the lower courts (as well as the Virginia Attorney General) agree that such laws cannot prohibit consensual sex among adults, which is protected by Lawrence v. Texas. The Virginia attorney general's court briefs did not seek to apply the sodomy law to consensual sex among adults, which is protected by constitutional privacy guarantees, but rather to apply it to uphold the convictions of sexual predators who have sex with minors, or seek to do so.

ScottBush
ScottBush

Being verbose isn't a sign of intellectual superiority nor a sign of the truth of your analysis drudown

drudown
drudown

The devastation that resulted from recent National Disasters (see, e.g., Superstorm Sandy; devastation in Oklahoma; Hurricane Katrina, et al.) underscores the flat out imprudence of any voter “going Libertarian” and/or voting for the GOP's "no new taxes, ever" agenda. It is eminently foreseeable that even worse natural disasters will be coming on account of global warming affecting ocean currents, i.e., which largely dictate weather. What, the People that have been displaced should turn to the "private sector" after such a natural disaster? All NSA jokes aside, so much for the (enter JAWS music) "Nanny State" being the problem.

It is our corrupted Congress refusing to raise revenue per Article I, Section 8 to reasonably deal with these disasters once they happen on account of limited fiscal resources. What, the “shut down” wasn’t the direct result of “no new taxes, ever” for Corporations?

Taken to its illogical conclusion, the GOP leaders in Congress adamantly oppose a commercially reasonable solution: pay for disaster relief by closing corporate tax loopholes and tax shelters. 
Why should Verizon customers pay a(n unenforceable) $175 penalty (wait, I mean liquidated damages)…but according to many sources, Verizon pays no Income tax?

"There is nothing free in this world, Jake." – Denzel Washington, ‘Training Day’


Corporations are realizing record profits. It is time they pay their fair share to support the State that grants their corporate fiction.

And if the Congress is opposed to such measures, it is time to work in good faith with the EU/UK and Russia to devise a commercially reasonable reduction of federal, state and municipal debt for each respective sovereign, if not merely to address the foreseeable consequences of Colonialism, unprecedented migrations into the United States and EU/UK from former colonies, renewable energy development, massive desalination/irrigation systems to offset decertification and- above all- to provide Stimulus Funds to be evenly distributed with an eye towards mutually advantageous economic development.

Who knows?

With a good idea or two, the President can outmaneuver those GOP foes trying to render his Administration irrelevant.

"The only thing that saves the world is the little handful of honorable men that are still in it." - Woodrow Wilson

*** 

Dear Sen. Inhofe:


How do you like me now? Still deny Climate Change is real?

/s/ the "new" Mother Nature 


“In law and government, what plea so tainted and corrupt/ But,


being seasoned with a gracious voice, obscures the show of evil.” –Shakespeare

trutherator
trutherator


@HansBader -- Good for you for exposing this truth about the case. As an anarcho-capitalist libertarian and Christian, it is not advocacy of either liberty or "equal treatment under the law" to demand government accommodation of ANYTHING, and that includes issues of whether drugs are good or bad or whether there should be dictates on the issue, or on issues of sodomy. With the issue of government coercion out of the way, we can then open up a free discussion to actually let people make their own individual judgments on matters of drugs, food, religious or non-religious beliefs, and whether they want to call their relationship a marriage, a mating, a partnership or a floogalichmacallit or whatnot.

Without government coercion and theft and licensing, there would be no discussion of "gay marriage" or other such demands. Just leave me alone, let me have my say and you yours. Using force monopolies to change the culture is a MARXIST doctrine, NOT a libertarian one.

JasonWright
JasonWright

@drudown FEMA has shown complete incompetence in dealing with disasters like Katrina. Their performance was so bad that the Red Cross stopped dealing with them and instead worked with Occupy Katrina which took over the distribution of the Red Cross's disaster aid and offered door to door assistance. Occupy Katrina, a hastily constructed volunteer effort was praised in New York's newspapers as being a far more effective organization with larger and better results than FEMA. It will always be the case that the people themselves are the best at taking care of each other and their own communities in a crisis.

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

@drudown Why do corporations even pay taxes? It's really double taxation, first at the corporate level and then again with the individual level paying on their dividends.  Let's simplify the tax code. No corporate taxes and eliminate loopholes and tax dodges for individuals. Tax all income including dividends and capital gains at the same rate.

drudown
drudown

@JasonWright @drudown

Taken to its illogical conclusion, you conflate the repeated, deliberate, patterned and purposeful INACTION of the "new" Tea Party-charged GOP [e.g., FEMA and Katrina; the refusal of the duly appointed GOP House "leaders" to promulgate an annual, commercially reasonable Budget with appropriate TAXATION as required by the EXPRESS LANGUAGE of Article I, Section 8 and the ruinous "shut down"; refusal of GOP Congress to honor Founding Fathers' prescribed "Advice and Consent" Power to thwart the spoils of the Presidency, et al.] as being "evidence" that (ahem) "government is the problem." By analogy, it would be equally inapt for you (or any GOP/Libertarian/Tea Party pundit/leader/advocate) to contend, gee, "the mass chaos and looting in post-invasion Iraq is 'evidence' the US Military has problems and should be 'reformed'" when the evidence clearly shows the GOP 'Decider' willfully refused to DECLARE MARTIAL LAW after the invasion, i.e., even though such a reasonable declaration would have (1) prevented the social unrest and wide scale looting of Iraq's national treasures/historic sites and (2), in doing so, thereby fostered (instead of disrupted) larger geopolitical stability.

It is quite clear an "agenda of chaos" animates the mind of the "new" GOP.

What, are you likewise contending Iraq is "better off" after the Decider turned their rule of law on its head? I think most Americans would rather risk injury themselves than uncritically adopt the Decider's contention the mere act of Felony Murder on 9/11 means, well, our 4th Amendment and, indeed, "system of government is dead."

Please. 

"Have you no sense of decency, sir?" - Joseph N. Welch to Sen. McCarthy

Finally, please spare us the shopworn gibberish that "the private sector" systematically degraded after the government is "drowned in the bathtub" [e.g., after the GOP "kills" Social Security/Medicaid/Medicare, et al.] is going to "be there" for the People as the government has been there in the past under our system of precedent. Citing to your unfounded example is as disingenuous as the legion of "unhappy victims" of (enter Halloween screech sound) lower Health Care premiums via Obamacare's competitive pricing component. 

Sorry, you are selling more Lobbyist talking points against the People's interests. 

"When faith is lost on account of corruption, when honor dies/ The public official is dead and must be swept away, like withered leaves, as he lies." - John Greenleaf Whittier

drudown
drudown

@JohnDavidDeatherage @drudown 

Hold on. I take it "you've just never watched the documentary 'We're Not Broke'" or "haven't considered how such 'selective enforcement of Taxation' seemingly constitutes a VIOLATION of Procedural Due Process to the People," e.g., the unnecessary "shut down" when less onerous means were and are available and REQUIRED under Article I, Section 8.

Corporations are citizens, correct? So why would literal citizens be forced to subsidize the State that grants the corporate fiction? Why would anyone credibly contend that the corporate fiction can avail itself of the myriad benefits of doing business in any of the Several States via Interstate Commerce (see, e.g., Affectation Doctrine/Commerce Clause and 'Minimum Contacts Requirement' for Personal Jurisdiction) but shoulder no share of the tax burden via its EFFECTIVE TAXATION RATE? (see, e.g., Verizon in recent years).

Spare me the "need" for Tax "reform" and Immigration "reform" that WEAKENS the United States Military, National Security and Police/Fire/EMT of the Several States. 

"Thy love afar is spite at home." - Emerson

drudown
drudown

@chimpy @drudown 

That is an absolute lie. They have NOT tendered an actual, reasonable Budget to sign into law. 

Moreover, how can you credibly contend the very "deficit" wasn't caused by the "no new taxes, ever" GOP policy, coupled with the "deregulation" of Wall St. that led to the massive bailouts?

I like how you just "gloss over" the GOP's "shut down", as if, in the end, they don't have a LEGAL DUTY to RAISE TAXES instead of "shutting down" the government.

As for the snarky insults, keep 'em coming. It tells me I am making a difference in the world educating voters, one at a time.

"He who writes to himself writes to an eternal public." - Emerson

chimpy
chimpy

@drudown You are a complete hack.

 "the refusal of the duly appointed GOP House "leaders" to promulgate an annual, commercially reasonable Budget with appropriate TAXATION as required by the EXPRESS LANGUAGE of Article I, Section 8 and the ruinous "shut down""

Excuse me, they have done exactly that. It is Obama who refuses to have anything short of a giant budget with a giant deficit. The GOP has submitted numerous balanced and nearly balanced budgets but Obama and Reid just refuse to accept it. Spend spend spend is their solution. 

chimpy
chimpy

@drudown Yea we are not broke. We can just be like North Korea and have 100% taxes and nothing else. 

chimpy
chimpy

@drudown Yea we are not broke. We can just be like North Korea and have 100% taxes and nothing else. Go to hell.

drudown
drudown

@JasonWright @drudown

You're being facetious, I assume?

The IRS is the People's de facto Proxy to collect Tax Revenue to provide for the Common Defense and General Welfare. Why would you imply that the "government" that upholds the New Deal is not your friend? I can see that "logic" applying to the GOP Police State the Decider tried to model after their Saudi business partners…but it is a real farce to claim that, say, the government in 1999 under the Clinton Administration was engaging in "armed robbery" when facilitating a record surplus and, in doing so, fostering the zenith of United States economic might.

Perhaps you'd care to humor us on just how, pray tell, the State is supposed to maintain roads, fund infrastructure projects that create jobs (which, not coincidentally, fuels additional economic growth), pays for our unrivaled Military/Police/Fire/CIA/FBI??

Just this: for every "necessary services" cut, less consumption occurs because the People use their after-tax dollars instead. 


Rest assured that the next GOP president is going to just find a different "reason" to DIVERT more US tax dollars to useless military campaigns abroad in their never-ending agenda to bankrupt the State so it is incapable of policing its own markets.


"The one aim of these financiers is world control the creation of inextinguishable debt." - Henry Ford

JasonWright
JasonWright

@drudown Government is a monopoly on the initiation of force, it is not your friend. Taxation is armed robbery.

drudown
drudown

@JohnDavidDeatherage 

"So hot? my poor little sir." - Emerson

The questions you fail to answer are as clear as the agreed upon inference that failure to respond to the substantive merits of a debate are to be deemed an admission of veracity.

Nor does one need to take a Federal Taxation class in law school to know your "double taxation" argument wouldn't get to 1st base, kid. Where's the case law to support such a novel legal proposition?

(cricket, cricket)

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

@drudown Your writing is as clear as mud. I've read and reread your posts. They are just a jumble of ideas without a central theme.  You need an editor.