David Kirby revives the old myth of a large “libertarian” swing vote:
The Reason-Rupe September 2012 poll includes our favorite ideological questions to differentiate libertarians from liberals and conservatives. Using three questions, we can define libertarians as respondents who believe “the less government the better,” who prefer the “free market” to handle problems, and who want government to “favor no particular set of values.” These fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters represent 20% of the public in the Reason-Rupe poll, in line with previous estimates.
The libertarian label that is being applied to this 20% depends on responses to three questions to which most moderate Republicans could give the “libertarian” answers. When the alternative is to believe that there are “more things the government should be doing,” that we should have a “strong government” to cope with “today’s complex economic problems,” and that the government should engage in the promotion of “traditional values,” many moderates and perhaps even some self-identified conservatives will end up affirming what Kirby is describing as the “libertarian” position. These moderates would almost certainly disagree with right-leaning libertarians and small-government conservatives on a large number of policy questions. They are giving the “libertarian” answer because they are right-leaning moderates and social liberals. They are therefore more skeptical of government, more pro-market, and have no interest in a socially conservative agenda. While they might be sympathetic to certain libertarian arguments, they would likely be opposed to many more.
It’s interesting that these “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” voters should be supporting Romney-Ryan at a higher level than any Republican ticket since 1988, not least since this ticket is theoretically the least socially liberal Republican ticket in decades. It is ostensibly a fiscally conservative ticket, but it hasn’t actively campaigned as one, and the credibility of both nominees on this score is not very good. So these voters seem to be rallying to Romney and Ryan in spite of the nominees rather than because of them. What we can all say with more confidence is that it is definitely not a libertarian-friendly ticket by any normal definition of the word. So I don’t know how it does libertarians any good to claim that 20% of the public is libertarian when it isn’t, nor do I understand why anyone would want to encourage the idea that libertarians overwhelmingly support the Romney-Ryan ticket when most of the people being referred to as libertarians are something else.