The Great Libertarian Purge Of 2008

Over at Reason, Ryan Sager tries to figure out where the libertarians who used to vote for Republicans have gone, and why:

[The] coalition between social conservatives and economic libertarians (who tend to be socially moderate to liberal), served the GOP well from 1964 to 2006. It gave the party eight years of Ronald Reagan and 12 years of a Republican Congress. But the Bush years have proven to be one long pulling apart. And, in a matter of days, we may just see the final snap.

The Cato Institute has done excellent work over the last few years tracking the shift in the libertarian vote—the roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of the American public that can be categorized as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

Based on an analysis of the American National Election Studies, Cato found that between 2000 and 2004, there was a substantial flight of libertarians away from the Republican Party and toward the Democrats. While libertarians preferred Bush by a margin of 52 points over Al Gore in 2000, that margin shrank to 21 points in 2004, when many libertarians—disaffected by the Iraq war, massive GOP spending increases, and the campaign against gay marriage—switched to John Kerry.

Polling on libertarian voters is somewhat sparse during elections, but there are a couple of data points and some broad trends that can give us an idea of where things stand now. An early October Zogby Interactive poll found that self-identified libertarians (about 6 percent of the poll’s sample) give McCain only 36 percent of their vote, lower than the 45 percent and 42 percent Zogby found them giving Bush in the last two elections. The libertarian voters claim to be defecting mainly to Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr and other third-party candidates, not to Obama. A Gallup poll conducted in September, which identified libertarian-minded voters with a series of ideological questions about the role of government in the economy and society (pegging them at around 23 percent of the electorate), found that only 43 percent of these voters plan pull the lever for McCain, slightly fewer than did for Bush in 2004. The Gallup poll also finds a significant uptick in libertarians planning to vote third-party, with 3.5 percent supporting Barr.

The GOP has lost these libertarian Republicans, Sager asserts, because it has become a one-note party:

Why would libertarians abandon McCain? After all, they believe in low taxes—and McCain is the one promising those. And if they’re concerned about social issues, well, McCain’s never shown much of a stomach for cultural warfare.

That is, of course, until now.

The real McCain, whoever that is or was, may still believe that major swathes of the Religious Right represent “agents of intolerance” in our politics. But he has decided to stake both his election and the Republican Party’s future upon them—from the barely coded racial refrain of “Who is Barack Obama?,” to the rallies with shouts of “terrorist” and “kill him,” to the corrosive choice of pipeline-prayer Sarah Palin as his running mate and heir apparent.

Tax cuts or no tax cuts, a party that can be roused in time of deep crisis only by fear and tribalism—a party that a supposed moderate is now deeding to its most extreme elements—can scarcely serve as a safe home to liberty or the voters who cherish it.

None of this is surprising, of course, because Republicans have been taking the libertarian, fiscally conservative oriented wing of their party for granted for quite some time now. While they pander to the religious right and social conservatives on a regular basis, they have spent the past eight years governing more like Democrats and Republicans and are leaving the nation with the legacy of a $ 10 trillion debt. And then, in what may end up being a grand act of political suicide, they nominate for President a man who clearly doesn’t give a crap about limited government in practice and let him pick a running mate who quite obviously doesn’t know what her job would be if she did manage to become Vice-President.

As Stephen Green notes, one wonders how long the abandonment can continue:

A party can ignore an important segment of swing voters for only so long — four-to-eight-years in the case of most right-leaning libertarians — before they finally become disaffected. Can the Republicans win us back?

Well, I don’t know about other libertarians, but I set the terms of my return back in June:

Time after time, those of us who do believe in limited government, individual liberty, and fiscal responsibility are told that we have to accept the crappy nominees that we’re faced with “for the good of the party.”

Well, you know what ? I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of accepting the idea that politicians who have demonstrated time after time that they aren’t going to fulfill the promises they make should be re-elected to office. I’m sick of having Presidential candidates like Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain shoved down my throat. And, I’m sick of being told to vote for the lesser of two evils.

That’s why, when November comes along, I’m voting for Bob Barr for President, or I won’t be voting for President at all. When it comes to lesser offices, I’ll vote for candidates who actually believe in limited government and free markets regardless of which party they belong to.

The Republican Party can have my vote back when, and if, they earn it.

And they can start earning it by nominating candidates who will actually follow some of those great-sounding provisions in their platform.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

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  • Sean


  • Nitroadict

    It’s a shame Ruwart got her back stabbed by the same “change” the LP represents. How is Barr not the lesser or evils? :rolls eyes:

  • Nitroadict


  • Alasdair

    Just a thought …

    In Scotland, we have a concept called “Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face !” – it describes a situation where someone does something counterproductive and potentially self-damaging to make a point …

    So – for example, perhaps one considers someone who believes in all good faith that Presidential candidate M isn’t sufficiently Libertarian … and that someone decides to vote for a third person – B – who, while much more pure from a Libertarian standpoint, hasn’t a proverbial snowball’s chance in the Hot Place of winning the Presidency … even though, by not voting for candidate M, this makes it easier for candidate O – One who is 179.99999 degrees opposite to being Libertarian – to become President for the next 4 years …

    The said someone’s Libertarian face remains pure – albeit looking *really* silly without a nose …

    Will it *really* be worthwhile voting like that ?

    Me – I refuse to give the O the satisfaction …

  • Mark

    In what way have the Republicans for the last 8 years been better than the Democrats? Has there ever been a more un-libertarian President since FDR? Which party brought us nationalized banks? Which party brought us the unitary executive and the largest expansion of executive power since FDR?

    Whatever advantage the Republicans ever had over the Dems always stemmed from economics, not personal/social freedoms – that advantage is long, long gone, or at least drastically minimized. Yes, Obama may turn out to be terrible on economics, but if he scales back our military spending on counterproductive wars then he could afford to implement quite a few new programs without being worse than the current regime. OTOH, if as I suspect he’s no different than your typical modern Dem President, then we could be looking at someone who governs more like Bill Clinton than FDR, and I don’t think there’s any debate that Bill Clinton governed less like a statist than any of the modern Republicans (Reagan’s record never matched his rhetoric).

  • Mark

    Put another way, Obama’s “share the wealth” philosophy (which in some instances has been taken out of context) may represent the underlying motive that justifies socialism, and is certainly problematic in its own way – but it is not actual socialism, at least not in the “Road to Serfdom” sense of the word; instead it is a philosophy that at some point can lead to socialism. Meanwhile, the Republicans, with the full support of McCain, have simply skipped the “lead to socialism” part and have brought us ACTUAL socialism in the “Road to Serfdom” sense – nationalization of major industries, perpetual war, restrictions on civil liberties, etc., etc.

  • jacksmith

    I see you all have not lost your fight :

    GOOD! Because we have a lot to do. You! (the American people) are going to have to take back control of your elected government at every level, and set your government back on the right path of service to you, and the greater good of the World.

    Barack Obama and the democrats are your best hope of doing that now. Tell your family, friends, and everyone you know to support them as best they can. Because the Bush McCain vote fraud, vote cheating, vote buying, vote manipulation machine is already hard at work to cheat you again. And we all know what a disaster that has been the past 8 years of Bush McCain.

    Barack Obama and the democrats will need all the power you can give them at every level of government (Federal, State, County, and local City elected governments). Obama and the democrats will have an enormous mess to fix for the American people, and the rest of the World. A mess caused by the corrupt Bush McCain administration.

    You see, starting back in 2000, and before 911, it was mostly the Republican governors, Republican legislatures, and county elected Republican officials that conspired with the corrupt Bush McCain administration to raise college, and university tuitions by the fastest, and highest rate increases in American history. Some state tuitions went up by as much as a WHOPPING! 30% in one year.

    The reason the Bush McCain administration did this was to force struggling working class kids into the military to pay for the sudden jump in tuition. Which was forced on them by the corrupt Bush McCain administration, and their corrupt Republican Governors, and republican controlled state legislatures.

    See, Bush McCain had plans to get us into all these immoral, foolish, criminal, and unnecessary wars from the start. So they could use these wars to seize power, and later to get reelected. But, for their evil plan to work they needed more volunteer soldiers struggling to pay for an education whose blood they could spill to help them seize more power. Remember Bush McCain’s “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” theatrics.

    The exploitation, and lost lives of these finest Americans is despicable, disgusting, immoral, corrupt and criminal. And it makes me SICK, and ANGRY!

    You will have to vote for Obama, and the democrats in overwhelming numbers to overcome the Bush McCain vote fraud machine. Vote early if you can. Then help your fellow Americans cast their votes now, and on through election day. Vote for Obama, and the democrats like your life, and the lives of your loved ones depends on it. Because it does. You will not survive 4 more years of “Let Them Eat Cake” Bush McCain, and their republican allies.

    Just look at the mess we have now.

    You can fix this mess with your votes for Obama, and the democrats. And REMEMBER, no matter which of us may stumble or fall, the rest of you must continue to surge forward for Barack Obama, and the democrats, and for your-selves most of all. The children, and the World are counting on us.

    It’s in your hands now. And I know you will get it done.

    God bless all of you.


  • tarran

    The one thing about the coming Obama presidency that I look forward to is mocking the Obama zealots when they begin to see that their idol will give them more of the same.

    Obama will do nothing to change the incentives that civil servants face. He will do nothing to reform the U.S. economy, in fact he will wreck it more effectively than George Bush has.

    Mencken was right. The voters deserve to get the leaders they want… good and hard… without lubrication.

  • Mark

    I don’t know if your comment was in response to me, but in case it was, it’s worth clarifying that I’m hardly expecting Obama to be a good President. I just expect him to be less bad than McCain. Which is why I think Alastair’s argument that a vote for Barr is equivalent to “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” is ridiculous. After the last 8 years, the idea that the Dems are meaningfully worse than the Republicans no longer carries any weight.

  • Nitroadict

    Yes, encourage your fellow libertarians to flock to Statist #2 instead of Statist #1, that’ll teach em!

  • Norm

    Lets say the libertarians all get behind McC and he squeaks one out. What will be the spin? “That McC is a libertarian or at least more conservative than he has behaved. That the two party system works.” None of which is true. So I intend to send a clear message that the two party duopoly is messed up and not working for me. A vote for either Dem or Rep is a vote for the status quo.

  • Greg Q

    In what way have the Republicans for the last 8 years been better than the Democrats?

    Um, which way do you think Heller would have gone if we’d had President Gore, or Kerry?

    Does the phrase “Bush tax cuts” ring a bell?

    Iraq no longer has an anti-American, terrorist supporting, dictator. If that’s your idea of a “counter-productive war”, then I have to say that your idea of “liberty” seems a bit lacking.

    Assault weapons ban, gone.

    I could go on, but your question really is rather ridiculous. Where’s the EPA been on “fighting Global Warming” for the last eight years? With the economy? Or with the environmental fruitcakes?

    Have the Republicans spent too much? Hell yes.

    Obama and Biden both voted for the Bridge to Nowhere, twice. If you think the Democrats aren’t going to spend a hell of a lot more than the Republicans did, you just haven’t been paying attention.

    And if you really, from a libertarian perspective, expect Obama to be less bad than McCain, then, if Obama wins, I will at least get to enjoy watching him screw you, and all the “libertarians” like you, into the wall good and hard. Because while I dont’ deserve what he would do to us, you, clearly, do.

  • Doug Mataconis

    Obama and Biden both voted for the Bridge to Nowhere, twice. If you think the Democrats aren’t going to spend a hell of a lot more than the Republicans did, you just haven’t been paying attention.

    And if you think four years of a Republican President who likes to tells us how much he “reaches across the aisle” is going to accomplish anything, you’re kidding yourself.

  • Mark

    Greg Q:
    1. Heller was hardly as broad a victory as you are portraying it. A victory, yes, but not a victory that is going to dramatically change gun laws outside the District of Columbia and some other big cities. The fact is that Roberts and Alito (Bush’s only two appointees) have probably been on the wrong side as often as they’ve been on the right side. Ditto for some of the liberal justices.
    2. The Iraq War took resources from Afghanistan, where we were fighting a group that was, you know, an actual threat to American lives. Saddam, for all his sabre rattling, was far from a threat to the US. As for the rationale that Saddam was a dictator…well, there’s an awful lot of dictators in the world, and it’s hardly appropriate to invade the country of each. I didn’t see anyone pushing to invade Burma, for instance – which is a far worse regime than Saddam was. Nor was there a push to invade Saudi Arabia or Egypt, which are the real breeding grounds for terrorism. And there should be little doubt that the Iraq war has stoked global anti-American sentiment to new heights, regardless of whether you supported it; last time I checked, Anti-American sentiment was the best recruiting tool terrorism has. And let’s not forget the costs of the Iraq War, both in terms of spent money (a huge contributor to the expanding national debt) and lost lives.
    3. The Bush tax cuts – tax cuts are meaningless if unaccompanied by spending cuts, and especially if accompanied by spending increases. All tax cuts do when accompanied by ever-larger deficits is to shift the tax burden to future generations. That is, unless you think we were on the “right” of the Laffer Curve, which is a rather dubious assertion.
    4. Having been intimately familiar with the way in which the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire, it’s more than safe to say that the Bushies had exactly nothing to do with it. In fact, the ban was allowed to sunset by a vote of 90-8. Last I checked there weren’t 90 Republicans in the Senate in 2004. Oh – by the way – there is currently a bill in the House to reinstate the ban. The sponsors and co-sponsors? 4 Republicans and 1 Democrat. A 2007 Dem attempt to reinstate the ban failed to even make it out of Committee at a time when Democrats controlled the Committee. While I’m here, it’s worth pointing out that the leading voice that attacked the so-called “gun show loophole” (which isn’t really a loophole) was none other than John McCain. It’s also worth pointing out that, at least when I was involved in the field, the Bush-era BATFE was perceived to be more aggressive than the Clinton-era BATFE.
    5. As for the EPA – do you have any evidence to back up your assertion that the EPA has been better for business under the Bushies than under the Clinton Admin? Also – at this point, when even Reason’s science editor is acknowledging the existense of global warming, I’d hardly say that whether global warming is real is a libertarian litmus test. And, of course, there is the fact that McCain is virtually indistinguishable from Democrats on global warming, outside of the issue of offshore drilling, which is a vastly overstated issue.
    6. The Bridge to Nowhere and earmarks are a canard. They are no doubt terrible, but they amount to a completely insignificant portion of the federal budget. McCain’s idea that he will somehow balance the budget by just getting rid of pork (without reducing the Pentagon’s budget!) is, to put it bluntly, insane. There are simply more important issues than earmarks, not least of which are civil liberties. But if you want to make the Bridge to Nowhere into an important issue, it’s worth noting that more Republicans voted for it than against it.
    7. Your use of scare quotes to describe libertarians (and to, therefore imply that they are not “real” libertarians) who find Obama less undesirable (or at least no more undesirable) than McCain is pathetic. If you think that a litmus test for libertarianism is voting for McCain, then you’ve just: 1. redefined libertarianism to mean “conservatism,” and 2. defined the vast majority of libertarians as “not libertarian.” Indeed, the folks at the libertarian flagship Reason put out their likely votes the other day. The results? 7 Barr, 6 non-voters, 3 Obama, 1 McCain, and 1 “Anybody but McCain.” If you have to put scare quotes around the libertarian-ness of Reason, then I would suggest that it is you who should rethink your identification as a libertarian.

  • Tom G

    In the last 24 years, the libertarian argument that both major parties are essentially the same beast keeps getting proven true – and this year is no different.
    I will most likely vote for Bob Barr this year…not because I like him, but because as bad a libertarian as he is alleged to be, he STILL beats McCain.

  • Greg Q

    And if you think four years of a Republican President who likes to tells us how much he “reaches across the aisle” is going to accomplish anything, you’re kidding yourself.

    I’m a libertarian. Why would I want the government to “accomplish anything”?

    McCain has been anti-earmark from day one. Palin has ruthlessly cut spending requests in her two years in office (this despite having a large surplus). McCain didn’t bother with the Iowa Caucuses because he’s been against Ethanol Subsidies for years. You want smaller government? Vote Republican.

  • Greg Q

    1: Heller was a victory for gun rights, and firmly put the “Individual Rights” interpretation of the 2nd Amendment in charge. That would not have happened if Gore or Kerry had won.

    Was it everything I hoped for? No. Which means we need to make sure a Democrat doesn’t end up putting anti-gun rights Justices on the Supreme Court. Point for McCain.

    2: You clearly don’t know anything about logistics. Iraq took enemy jihadi fighters, who would have been happy to fight us in Afghanistan, and got them to come after us in Iraq instead.

    Afghanistan has no ocean access, no rail access, and a crappy road net. The troops we have in Afghanistan are the maximum we can support.

    We’re getting ready to move more troops there. The reason we can do that is because we’ve been upgrading the logistic structure in Afghanistan. Something we’ve been able to do BECAUSE Afghanistan wasn’t the main theater of action.

    Iraq has ports, and rail lines, and a decent road network. This meant we could support more US Troops there. Making Iraq the main point of conflict made it so the battle was much more on our terms.

    Which is why we were able to win.

    2 a: You damn betcha Egypt and Saudi Arabia are excellent targets for government improvement.
    Now, care to tell us how we were going to do ANYTHING about them so long as Saddam was around.

    2 b: “Oh the whole world hates us”. Bullshit. The world’s left-wing media elites hate us, because we’re a country where “the little people” matter. And because we show that socialism doesn’t work.

    You would think a libertarian would value those things.

    3. “The Bush tax cuts – tax cuts are meaningless if unaccompanied by spending cuts”
    Well, I don’t know what kind of “libertarian” you are, but you’re certainly not the kind who knows anything about economics.

    Taxes screw up and distort the economy. Lowering them is inherently good, esp. when you do it in “good” ways (cutting rates rather than targeted tax cuts to the politically connected, avoiding huge jumps in marginal rates, etc.).

    Cutting the size of the government is also good. If you think you’re going to get that with Obama, you’re on drugs.

    4: Guns: What do you think Obama, who supported DC in Heller (McCain supported Heller), and who is on record favoring a ban on concealed carry, is goign to do for gun rights?

    5: The Bush EPA was sued for not regulating CO2. Neither the Gore, Kerry, nor Obama EPAs will ever face such lawsuits.

    “Belief” in AGW is a test of intelligence and knowledge, not libertarianism. The idiots and dupes and whores (Scientists who get their funding based on saying the “correct” things) believe in it, the rest of us don’t.

    At a minimum, the rest of us understand that the cost of Kyoto etc. FAR outweighs any potential benefits.

    6: Earmarks are a “agteway drug” to corruption and higher spending. “You support my big budget buster and I’ll support your earmark.” “You get this earmark, and we’ll give your wife a $100,000 / year raise.” Will cutting them, in and of itself, “save” the budget? No.

    But they’re a damn good place to start.

    7: You can be a libertarian w/o supporting McCain.

    Obama is a dyed in the wool “spread the wealth” socialist. So no, you cannot be a libertarian and support Obama.

  • Greg Q


    WE can argue AGW some other time, if you wish. But, before we do that, you might want to look up in the sky, and check out that bright ball of light.

    The one that the AGW “theories” assume has constant output.

    Then you might want to check out how many sunspots there have been in the last 6 months or so.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Speaking as an attorney, and I think Mark will back me up on this one, I think you’re going to be surprised on just what comes out of the Heller decision.

    Yes, the Court stated that the right established in the 2nd Amendment is an individual one.

    And, yes, they said that an outright ban on a type of weapon was a violation of the 2nd Amendment.

    At the same time, though, the language of the opinion makes clear that, in the Court’s view, the Second Amendment does permit some degree of regulation of firearm ownership.

    Heller was the beginning, not the end, and anyone who thinks that it killed the gun control lobby is kidding themselves

  • Mark

    1: I merely think Obama is less bad than McCain – I am a Barr voter through and through. But I can imagine nothing more un-libertarian than a candidate that thinks we’re not attacking enough countries AND that he can do that and still cut government spending.
    2. Doug – exactly. Also, I seem to recall a Volokh post shortly after Heller that essentially argued that both the dissent and the majority found an individual right. The difference was over the scope of that individual right. Regardless, the way in which Scalia placed limitations on that right was results-oriented judging at its worst; he crafted the decision in such a way that he was clearly trying to save the NFA and the post-86 machine gun ban.
    3. Global warming – I’m a global warming agnostic so there’s no debate to be had with me. My point is simply that global warming denial is far from a libertarian litmus test.
    4. I love the logic under which we can attack every country we don’t like without any negative consequences and without angering the people who live in that country (regardless of their sentiment towards the US). I also love the “they just hate us because we’re not socialists” canard, which both distorts the definition of socialism and ignores the fact that under Bush we’ve fallen behind several of those countries in just about every ranking of economic freedom.

    The bottom line is what you seem to call ‘libertarianism’ is indistinguishable from National Greatness Conservatism.

    One last thing -the argument that spending is the ‘actual’ tax rate is one that has been argued by many economists. Thge concept that less tax revenue equals lower spending has been terribly disproven.