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The Libertarian Vote: How Big Is It?

in Elections and Politics, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Now that Rand Paul has officially announced he is seeking the presidency, attention is being focused on the libertarian voting bloc. Just how big is it? How many libertarian-minded voters are out there?

The answer may surprise you.

First, it’s important to note that “libertarian voter” doesn’t necessarily mean a voter who meets the stricter definition of a libertarian, i.e., someone who consistently opposes the initiation of force. Rather, it refers to someone who would be inclined to vote for a libertarian candidate in an election. Someone who is more supportive of libertarian ideas than liberal, conservative, statist or centrist ideas.

Different organizations have used different methods to determine the size of this libertarian bloc. And they’ve come up with some pretty consistent estimates.

* For 20 years Gallup’s annual Governance Survey has divided voters into liberal, conservative, libertarian, or populist, based on their answers to two questions:

  1. “Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?”
  2. “Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?”

In their 2014 survey Gallup classified 24% of respondents as libertarian (with 27% conservative, 21% liberal, and 18% populist). This is hardly a rigorous political litmus test, but it may well help single out voters who might be sympathetic to libertarianism.

  • The Cato Institute’s David Boaz has done a lot of work on this over the years, including an important 2012 book (with David Kirby Emily Ekins) that summarizes numerous polls by Cato and others on the topic: The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center.
    They conclude that, depending on the criteria used, roughly 15-18% of voters can be classified as “libertarian voters.”
  • A 2006 Zogby poll, commissioned by Cato, found surprising results. Zogby asked half of a group of 1,012 people who had voted in the 2006 election: “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?” Fully 59% of the respondents said “yes.”
    Zogby asked the other half a more challenging question: “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian?” A surprising 44% of respondents — representing 100 million Americans — answered “yes” to that question, thus self-identifying as libertarians. This is obviously higher than the number of true libertarians in America, but certainly it at least indicates that millions of people are open to these ideas and this label.
  • Finally, here’s an often-overlooked but remarkable finding — based on the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz. In August 2000 Rasmussen gave the World’s Smallest Political Quiz to nearly 1,000 representative American voters. The Quiz is a far more rigorous test of one’s libertarian leanings than “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” or other looser definitions used by polling firms. Yet fully 16% scored in the libertarian sector then — a figure closely matching to the other estimates we’ve cited.

What can we conclude? While the numbers and the criteria in these studies vary, at the very least there is broad agreement on a figure between 15% to 20%. That’s 30 to 40 million voters — a huge, and growing, voting bloc that could easily swing an election.

Add to this the additional millions on the left, right, and center who may vote for a libertarian-leaning candidate who stresses issues of great importance to them — such as a more peaceful foreign policy, marijuana re-legalization, slashing taxes, and reforming the out-of-control surveillance state.

Which brings us back to Rand Paul’s presidential run announcement. Rand Paul doesn’t claim to be a libertarian. He has described himself as “libertarian-ish” and in 2013 told Sean Hannity “I use the term constitutional conservative, but I also use the term libertarian conservative. … I accept all of those terms if they mean they believe in limited government and more individual liberty.”

But he is certainly the most libertarian-inclined presidential candidate — outside the Libertarian Party — in memory. Cato’s Boaz notes in TIME what may well be the most important thing to come out of a Rand Paul campaign:

“One result of his campaign will be to help those tens of millions of libertarian-leaning Americans to discover that their political attitudes have a name, which will make for a stronger and more influential political faction. … Libertarianism is the framework for a future of freedom, growth, and progress, and it may be on the verge of a political breakout.”

Discovery BEFORE Persuasion

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Michael Cloud Comments are off

(From the Persuasion Power Point section in Volume 19, No. 15 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

What’s the fastest and easiest way to bring people into the libertarian movement?  

“Help some of them see that they are already libertarians,” says Perry Willis, former Executive Director of the National Libertarian Party and current vice president of Downsize DC.

“Discovery before persuasion. Before you try to persuade NON-libertarians to become libertarians, first look for and talk with people who are already libertarians — or mostly libertarian.”

Such people are out there — by the tens of millions. Last year, a Freedomworks poll found that fully “78 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially moderate.”

Further: “Told that libertarians generally believe individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives, 58 percent of the full national sample said they agree.”

Such people are obviously sympathetic to libertarian ideas — but millions of them don’t know about libertarianism. The Freedomworks poll found that about 40 percent of 18-to-32-year-olds view the word “libertarian” favorably — but about a third didn’t know what it meant.

They are waiting to hear about libertarianism. How do you quickly discover these libertarian-leaning people?

A great way is by using the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz. Available as a pocket-sized card or in its famous online version, it’s the quickest and easiest way to identify someone’s political leanings. To do this in large groups, use OPH (Operation Politically Homeless), which incorporates the Quiz into a crowd-drawing fun booth that identifies and recruits new supporters.

Perry Willis’s “discovery before persuasion” rule focuses us on those who are most receptive and responsive to libertarianism.

People who are glad to hear about liberty. Who are delighted to learn that they aren’t the only ones who believe what they believe and want what they want: freedom.

Warning: Mr. Willis is NOT saying “discovery INSTEAD OF persuasion.” He is saying “FIRST discovery, THEN persuasion.”

“Discovery before persuasion” is easy, enjoyable, fast, and effective.

For us and for those we speak with.

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Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian PersuasionMichael Cloud’s latest book Unlocking More Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion is available exclusively from the Advocates, along with his acclaimed earlier book Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion.In 2000, Michael was honored with the Thomas Paine Award as the Most Persuasive Libertarian Communicator in America.

Do You Prefer Cats, Dogs — Or Liberty?

in Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 2 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

As president of the organization that publishes the world’s first and most popular online political Quiz, I was naturally interested when TIME magazine posted an online political quiz this month in an article entitled “Your Personality Makes Your Politics.”

“Can TIME Predict Your Politics?” the article’s subhead asked.

Alas, for me — and, I suspect, many other readers — the answer was a resounding NO.

I took their quiz, and TIME’s description of my political views was wildly out of synch with what I believe. Not even remotely close. And I found some of the questions downright bewildering.

There are several reasons for this, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

But the main reason TIME got my position so very, very wrong is that my political view — libertarian — was not one of the possible answers.

Yes, that’s right. TIME’s quiz attempts to shoehorn every taker’s politics as some variant of liberal, conservative, or moderate.

TIME’s quiz uses the simplistic, inaccurate, discriminatory, discredited left-versus-right view of politics — which leaves out libertarians entirely.

And there’s simply no excuse for that.

Numerous recent surveys indicate that 15%-20% or more of Americans are more libertarian than either liberal or conservative. The 2012 Cato Institute book The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center explores these results at length, and concludes that 10 to 20 percent of Americans are fiscally conservative and socially liberal-libertarian.

In August 2000 the Rasmussen polling firm gave the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz to nearly 1,000 representative American voters. Our Quiz is a far more rigorous test of one’s libertarian leanings than the looser definitions typically used by polling firms. Yet fully sixteen percent scored in the libertarian sector then — a figure roughly identical to Cato’s estimate.

And the numbers are growing fast. An August poll by FreedomWorks found that fully “78 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially moderate.” Further: “Told that libertarians generally believe individuals should be free to do as they like as long as they don’t hurt others and that the government should keep out of people’s day-to-day lives, 58 percent of the full national sample said they agree.”

Any attempt to identify American’s political leanings that leaves out many of these millions of libertarians and libertarian-leaners is thus doomed to fail.

The inadequacies of the left-versus-right model of politics was the main reason David Nolan created his now-famous Nolan Chart back in 1971, the graphic foundation of the Advocates’ World’s Smallest Political Quiz.

By showing that there was more to politics than just left versus right, our Quiz has opened millions of minds to a more inclusive, more insightful political map.

This accuracy is one reason the Quiz rapidly became the world’s most popular political quiz. It’s been taken over 20 million times online. It’s been recommended by numerous major high school and college textbooks and is used in classrooms across America. It’s been translated into several languages and reprinted in newspapers and magazines with total circulations in the many millions.

All of this is because it works. Because it provides honest, essential, enlightening insights into politics. Because it realizes that no discussion of modern American politics makes sense without including the distinctive libertarian view (and its mirror-opposite, statism).

But back to the TIME quiz.

I have a lot of respect for the researcher behind TIME’s quiz. Jonathan Haidt is the author of the outstanding 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, which is carefully researched and rich in political insights. I recommend it.

That book shows Haidt has a solid understanding of libertarianism and, more than that, an appreciation of what libertarians believe. And I’m a strong proponent of Haidt’s goal of fostering more productive political discussions through a greater understanding of different viewpoints.

TIME’s quiz isn’t a traditional political quiz. It tries to identify your politics based on a number of seemingly non-political questions that have been found to correlate with a person’s political leanings. The first question, for instance is, “Do you prefer cats or dogs?”

This is an interesting line of research, but since libertarians apparently aren’t included in this — and since the overriding value of libertarians is political liberty across the board, trumping cultural or lifestyle matters — I would think it would be hard to identify libertarians in such a way (though I could be wrong). Perhaps the quiz’s lack of a libertarian score indicates this.

A few of the questions also suffer from ambiguity in wording, something libertarians are especially sensitive to. Like “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn.” What KIND of authority? Political? Family? School? Religion? Tell us more! For libertarians, the key political question is always: Is force being initiated?

By the way, Haidt himself acknowledges the problems with the left-right line. In the introduction to his TIME quiz, he notes: “many people can’t place themselves along the liberal-conservative dimension — such as libertarians, or people who find wisdom on both sides on different issues.” The results, he says, is that the TIME quiz has “moderate predictive power.”

Given this, TIME’s Quiz — like all efforts at political measurement based on the hopelessly inadequate left-versus-right model — is doomed to not work for millions of us — or to produce less than satisfying results overall.

Back to the drawing board, TIME! Meanwhile, why not offer the World’s Smallest Political Quiz to your readers — as the Washington Post, London Sunday Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miami Herald and many other outstanding publications have done?