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The Forgotten (Or Ignored) Libertarian Vote

The Hotline’s Blogometer today notes an Andrew Sullivan post covering this piece on Tech Central Station from David Boaz (of CATO) and David Kirby (of America’s Future Foundation). (Hopefully that’s enough attribution to keep me in good standing as a blogger… dear lord…).

The general theme reflects (with actual evidence) what I have been saying since before the election (based solely on my beliefs as a libertarian voter). The swing in libertarian votes away from the GOP was much, much larger than the swing amongst so-cons, and likely cost the GOP congress.

This year we commissioned a nationwide post-election survey of 1013 voters from Zogby International. We again found that 15 percent of the voters held libertarian views. We also found a further swing of libertarians away from Republican candidates. In 2006, libertarians voted 59-36 for Republican congressional candidates—a 24-point swing from the 2002 mid-term election. (emphasis mine) To put this in perspective, front-page stories since the election have reported the dramatic 7-point shift of white conservative evangelicals away from the Republicans. The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large.

The media loves to make a big deal about the strength of the so-cons within the party, but the fact is it is the libertarian vote (the fiscally conservative, socially liberal wing) that turned away from the party.

As I have always said, the fiscal conservatives put up with the so-cons agenda for regulating personal issues as long as the fiscal house was kept in check. The so-con wing had traditionally kept the fiscal house in check as long as they were free to pursue the social issues. That held the coalition together.

Over the last six years, the so-cons abandoned the pretense of fiscal restraint while pursuing, unchecked, their social agenda. This year alone, the Congressional agenda focused on social issues at the expense of good government in a blatant attempt to mobilize the so-con base.

The libertarians fled rather than betray their principles. In many cases they voted Libertarian as a protest (Boaz and Kirby highlight a number of races where the Libertarian vote was greater than the margin of victory for the Dem).

The bloodletting of libertarian votes has been going on for some time, however.

Based on the turnout in 2004, Bush’s margin over Kerry dropped by 4.8 million votes among libertarians. Had he held his libertarian supporters, he would have won a smashing reelection rather than squeaking by in Ohio.

That’s right! Despite popular perception within the party that Bush improved his numbers dramatically in all sectors in 2004, he actually lost libertarian votes. He could have won a Reagan-esque landslide victory had he not abandoned fiscal conservatism in his first term. His three million vote margin could have been nearly eight million.

I, and many of my friends back home, have always maintained that we support the GOP because it was easier to push for limited government in your personal life with Republicans who otherwise supported fiscal discipline and small government than it was to support lower taxes and smaller government within a Democrat party that historically believes in a large fed.

It doesn’t appear that is universally true anymore. If the Democrats pursue an agenda of taxation and larger federal programs, the libertarians will likely return home. However, if Democrats understand they will not win the South on a values debate, they may begin to pursue more fiscal conservatism (balancing the budget, reining in spending, and actually implementing real pay-go rules).

If that happens, the GOP may become the permanent minority as more libertarians shun the party of the religious right. As Boaz and Kirby state:

If Republicans can’t win New Hampshire and the Mountain West, they can’t win a national majority. And they can’t win those states without libertarian votes. They’re going to need to stop scaring libertarian, centrist, and independent voters with their social-conservative obsessions and become once again the party of fiscal responsibility.

Written by Michael Turk