Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

For Whom Do Libertarians Vote?

Via Instapundit, an article by Ryan Sager that raises, but then doesn't really discuss, an interesting issue:
Perhaps the most interesting fact in the Pew survey, however, was that less than 6 in 10 libertarians voted for Bush in 2004. While few libertarians seem to have deserted the president between 2000 and 2004, they are split roughly evenly between the two parties. The Pew survey finds 50 percent of libertarians identifying as Republicans, 41 percent as Democrats.

Given that libertarians' traditional home has been in the conservative base of the Republican Party for about five decades, as part of a strained partnership with social conservatives, their almost 50-50 split between the two parties today is big news.
Sager treats the split as a function of the GOP's attempt to woo "populists" (people who are comfortable with more government regulation of both the economic and social spheres). I think there's something to that; one consequence of the abortion issue is that it's pushed a lot of people with moderate-to-liberal views on economics into the GOP coalition, shifting the preferences of the median GOP voter a few ticks to the left on economic issues.

But surely the more significant cause of the libertarian flight to the Democratic Party is the rise of the New Democrats and the movement of the Democrats to the center on economic issues over the last 20-odd years. Surely it became a lot easier for libertarians to cross party lines during the Clinton Era when the Democrats (traditionally the party of social deregulation) showed increasing openness to economic deregulation as well. A choice between wage/price controls and the regulation of pornography is one thing; a choice between increased EITC funding and the regulation of pornography is another. It's a lot easier to vote for Democrats (or at least not vote for Republicans) when you know the a Democratic victory isn't the first step on the road to socialism. A Democratic Party in which the social democratic wing has been largely disempowered (as it has in today's Democratic Party) is at least potentially as comfortable a home for libertarians as a fusionist Republican Party. It's not shocking that so many libertarians are Democrats.

To put it differently: today's GOP may be economically to the left of the GOP of 1980 or 1964, but it's well to the right of the GOP in the 50s when the libertarian-conservative coalition was emerging. It's just that today's Democrats are massively to the right of the Democratic Party of that era. Libertarian dissatisfaction with today's Republican Party has as much to do with the relative preferability of the alternative as it does the big-spending ways of Bush and the current congressional majority.