From Surveys to Reality

Reason’s Nick Gillespie has a new piece on Time.com asking “Who’s A Real Libertarian Now?”  His piece is a response to the 2013 American Values Survey which identified 7% of the American public as consistent Libertarians and 15% as lean Libertarian. Gillespie uses this 22% as sign that this is the new swing vote that can “throw any election in their direction.”

Couple things stick out.

First, he doesn’t mention that 7% of Americans are consistent communalists and an additional 17% lean communalist (which in the report is the other side of the American political scale to Libertarians).  I guess I’ll have to wait for the Washington Post pieces on the upcoming Communalist moment in American politics.

Second, and much more importantly, Gillespie spends the second half of the piece looking at actually translating this ideology into practical politics.  He is critical of Libertarian-hero Rand Paul for supporting Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign for Virginia governor and for his position on abortion:

But Paul’s willingness to stump for candidates such as Cuccinelli and his willingness to pander to evangelicals surely makes many libertarians wary of either joining up with or staying inside a Republican Party whose rhetorical commitment to limited government has never been matched by its actual policies.

Where does Gillespie think they are going to go?  The idea of a creating a viable third is almost as laughable as thinking you’re going to take over the Democratic party.

As for Rand Paul not being a perfect messenger, Paul is simply like any other politician who understands practical reality.  Paul gets that in order to have a voice in American politics you have to be in one of the two parties and his ability for career advancement is better in the GOP.

Similarly, Paul’s campaigning for the Cooch in Virginia is a political calculation.  While Paul may be more like Libertarian Robert Sarvis on issues he knows to win the nomination in 2016 he’ll need the support of many people in Virginia, and elsewhere, who agree with Cuccinelli.  There simply are not enough supporters of Sarvis to get him what he wants in 2016.

Why?  One reason could be that social conservatives and Tea Partiers are much larger and more electorally potent groups than Libertarians.  As the report points out (which Gillespie fails to mention):

Libertarians make up a smaller proportion of the Republican Party than other key conservative groups.  Only 12% of self-identified Republicans are libertarians, compared to 20% of Republicans who identify with the Tea Party, 33% who identify with the religious right or conservative Christian movement, and 37% who identify as white evangelical Protestant.

So while surveys that show America is on the verge of a Libertarian (or Communalist) moment come and go, the ability to turn those broad ranging positions into an actual political force is something Libertarians seem right now to be lacking.

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