The Spectacle Blog

Re: The Libertarian Vote

By on 10.13.06 | 1:58AM

Philip: You're right about the libertarian divide on national security, though in fairness to Boaz and Kirby they do cover this in their paper (pdf):

Like other Americans, libertarians who worried most about the threat of terrorism preferred Bush to Kerry. In 2004, according to the ANES data, libertarians accounted for 13 percent of the total adult population of the United States. Of those, half told pollsters that "terrorism" was the most important issue in the last four years. Others were widely split, citing the economy, the war in Iraq, civil liberties,vor other issues as most important. Of those libertarians who identified terrorism as the most important issue in the last four years, 80 percent voted for George W. Bush, while 20 percent voted for John Kerry. Of those who identified anything else as the most important issue, 56 percent voted for Kerry, and 39 percent voted for Bush.32 In other words, libertarians for whom terrorism was the most important issue were twice as likely to vote for Bush. If terrorism is not as critical a decision point in upcoming elections, or if support for Bush's handling of terrorism declines, then perhaps libertarians frustrated with big-government Republicans will be less likely to stick with them on national security grounds. ...

Anecdotal evidence from prominent libertarians confirms the importance of the issue of terrorism in 2004. Libertarian-leaning Louis Rossetto, who started Wired magazine, intended to vote for Bush: "Bush may bewrong about everything else, but he is right about the issue that matters most for my children's future: stopping Islamic fascism." David Kopel of the Independence Institute said: "This will be the first election in which I have ever voted for a Republican for president. We're in a war in which the survival of civilization is at stake, and Bush is the only candidate who realizes the gravity of the danger we face and who is determined to win World War IV," language echoed by Vermont libertarian author and gadfly John McClaughry. Law professor Eugene Volokh also cited the war on terrorism in his decision to vote Republican.

(This is followed by a footnote citing Reason's 2004 who-will-you-vote-for symposium.)

An issue that Boaz and Kirby don't get into, oddly enough, is what might be called the gridlock vote. There's a line in Table 13 of their paper noting that in a 2000 poll more than half of libertarians expressed a preference for divided government. I'd bet that that number has risen; certainly lots of libertarian who supported Kerry in 2004 made an appeal to gridlock (there was even a graphic going around that advocated ticket-splitting under the slogan "Block the Box"). My hunch is that there's a sizable chunk of libertarians who will vote for a Republican presidential candidate if it looks like there'll be a Democratic congress and vice versa (and that the contapositive holds for congressional races). While these libertarians may be a certain species swing voters, they're not the sort of swing voters that either party can expect to reliably win over.

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