Home/Daniel Larison/The Odd Case of the Undecided Fiscal Conservative/Social Liberal

The Odd Case of the Undecided Fiscal Conservative/Social Liberal

The undecided voters quoted in this James Fallows post don’t have very good arguments for their indecision. One wrote:

For example, I’m fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. So my quandary is choosing which set of policies are more important to me, and to the country, this time around.

Judging from the voter’s ideological self-identification and his reported history of presidential voting, it’s clear that this person is a moderate Republican and normally a reliable Republican voter (except in ’88, ’92 and ’08). “Fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is the standard way for moderate Republicans to describe themselves, and like many other usually reliable Republican voters they are under the illusion that the Republican Party is fiscally conservative. The main reason that this voter is in a quandary seems to be that he thinks the Republican ticket has something to do with fiscal conservatism, but his past votes for president suggest that fiscal conservatism isn’t very important to him. For instance, no one votes for the fiscally irresponsible Bush in 2004 to express support for an extremely costly and unnecessary war if one is concerned with being fiscally conservative.

What’s particularly odd in this person’s voting record is that he never voted for the elder Bush (probably the Republican candidate most in line with his stated preferences), voted against Clinton’s re-election “on grounds of integrity,” and then voted for Bush’s re-election to express support for the Iraq war. According to the way he described himself, he has consistently voted for the wrong candidate in almost every election, and he has done so for reasons that don’t fit the description of “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” at all.

He voted third-party in 1988, which suggests that he would be open to doing so again. Gary Johnson would seem to be the most obvious candidate for this voter, but Johnson’s name is never mentioned and a third-party vote is never even raised as a possibility. I take this as one more piece of anecdotal evidence that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” Republicans are not meaningfully “libertarian.” When presented with a credible Libertarian candidate as an alternative, these voters will tend not to support him despite the apparent unacceptability of the major party candidates. If someone truly is “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” he certainly should vote for Johnson, but the vast majority of those that describe themselves this way will typically end up backing a Republican ticket that doesn’t represent their stated preferences in the slightest.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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