NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 31, 2006

Where are the libertarians in politics and the media? Since the Clinton impeachment and the Florida recount, there's been a polarization: Congressmen and TV pundits define themselves as red/blue, pro-/anti-Bush, partisan Democrat/Republican, and take rigid liberal/conservative positions on Iraq, tax cuts, Social Security reform, gay marriage, abortion. But polls tell us that Americans aren't quite so partisan, says David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute.

According to the Gallup Poll's annual survey on government:

  • Some 27 percent of Americans are conservative; 24 percent are liberal -- which is up sharply because the poll was taken after Katrina boosted support for the proposition that "government should do more to solve our country's problems."
  • Gallup also found -- this year as in others -- that 20 percent are neither liberal nor conservative but libertarian, opposing the use of government either to "promote traditional values" or to "do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses."
  • Another 20 percent are "populist" (supporting government action in both areas), with 10 percent undefined.
  • Libertarian support, spread across demographic groups, is strongest among well-educated voters.

Of course, it could be that most Americans are, in fact, liberals and conservatives. Maybe Gallup is wrong, every year. But the exit polls on election day 2004 offer some confirmation, says Boaz:

  • According to those polls, 17 million voted for John Kerry but did not think the government should do more to solve the country's problems.
  • And 28 million Bush voters support either gay marriage or civil unions.

That's 45 million who don't fit the polarized model. They seem to have broadly libertarian attitudes. In fact, it's no secret that these libertarian orphans make up a chunk of America. But you'd never know it from watching TV -- or listening to our elected politicians, says Boaz.

Source: David Boaz, "Libertarian Orphans," Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2006.

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