Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Libertarian Voters and One Libertarian (Me) on TV

David Boaz, to whom many libertarians like me owe a great deal, announces he’s written a report with David Kirby about what portion of the voting public is libertarian or near-libertarian (not nearly enough but more than you might think).  The executive summary is here and the full PDF here.

Boaz notes that some 14% of the electorate may qualify (and that the number goes as high as 59% according to Zogby if you simply use a broad “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” test) and admonishes that this is enough to swing elections.  An observation about swingers gleaned from Ramesh Ponnuru, though: as Boaz notes, libertarians were moving away from Bush in 2004 and toward McCain in 2008, but in each case the general public seemed to move in the opposite direction — so maybe self-interested politicians should flee the libertarian embrace.

It seems fair to say, though, that there are times when libertarians capture the zeitgeist and times when they don’t, with 2010 possibly being a time when libertarians, Republicans, and fed-up Tea Partying members of the general public are all on the same anti-government page.  Boaz and Kirby hope that’s the case (and that Scott Brown’s elections is evidence) and that we’ve gotten past the point when, as they put it four years ago, “Social conservatives have evangelical churches, the Christian Coalition, and Focus on the Family…Liberals have unions…Libertarians [only] have think tanks.”

I think anytime the public is focused on government-as-a-whole, it’s good for libertarians and fiscal conservatives.  Government, looked at with even the slightest awareness of economics, is manifestly a predatory and almost uniformly socially-destructive force, but in relatively comfortable times, people are lulled into paying attention to only their favorite bits of government — whether healthcare provision, welfare to favored groups, or trash collection — and forget that the entire institution is the most massive of net losses for us all, worth opposing on all fronts.

And if you want a glimpse of what a libertarian-led chunk of the electorate might look like in a televised town hall meeting responding to a presidential State of the Union address, look no farther than Fox Business Channel, this Wednesday starting at 8pm Eastern, hosted by John Stossel — during which, prior to and/or after Obama’s speech, you’ll likely see me weighing in from the audience (and speaking of weight, catch me defending Twinkies in the final minute of the regular Stossel broadcast the very next night, Thursday, shown at 8pm and again at 11pm, if you aren’t completely sick of my Audience Guy character by then).


Gerard said...

I think anytime the public is focused on government-as-a-whole, it’s good for libertarians and fiscal conservatives.

I agree with this statement.

The public has a generic antipathy towards the results of government-engineered solutions, e.g. widespread displeasure at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the United States Postal Service, but doesn’t seem to reason its way to what/who is responsible for these perceived failures.

It reminds me of the reaction to FEMA, and its director, Mike Brown, after that agency’s dawdling in the wake of hurricane Katrina, i.e. this would never have happened if Bill Clinton had been POTUS at the time. As if the incompetence and cronyism of the federal government were some sort of policy sui generis to the Bush administration, rather than an operating feature of the institution.

Marc S. said...

I peformed a similar analysis fro my Poli Sci stats seminar in ‘91, “Libertarian Sympathies in the American Electorate” I think I called it. Seem to remember getting around 14% as well, which I dismissed as “Huh, that’s not very impressive.”

Todd Seavey said...

Keep in mind — as you perhaps now do — that neither liberal nor conservative really rises close to 50% either. It’s all mushy, but I think conservatives are the biggest single chunk of the spectrum at around 25-30%. Of course, most people barely have political opinions at all unless pushed, and even then, most just lazily keep track of which “team” they’re on.

I was struck by the fact that a both a liberal and a conservative in the studio audience of _Stossel_ in which I found myself last night wanted some sort of government subsidies to small businesses, it _seemed_, but the liberal framed the policy request in terms of helping urban areas (like Clinton) and the conservative in terms of Obama needing to do more to promote the economy (more like Nixon). They’re both wrong, of course, which is the important thing.

More on my last night’s Stossel experience in a new blog entry in a few hours, I hope, just before I appear _yet again_, on tonight’s Thur. 8pm show.

Gerard said...

The Small Business Administration is one of those federal government agencies that sounds swell, but in reality is rather ghastly.

The Subway Business Admiistration

If I were a congressional backbencher, one of the first things I’d suggest Obama include in this spending “freeze” of his is the SBA. That, and cut the DOJ budget in half-the less money available to Holder & Co. the better.