Via Greg Mankiw we get a column in the National Journal by Clive Crook, a Brit, regarding the role of Libertarians in the American electorate and the Republican Party. [Caveat: I have voted for Libertarian candidates many times including twice for President]. Some key sections follow:
The vaunted ability of the Republican Party to get out the vote where it really matters is about to be tested. If the party can survive the midterm elections without heavy losses (especially if it retains control of the House) despite the current abysmal poll ratings for the Bush administration and the congressional leadership, then its strategy of attending to its loyalist base will be vindicated. If the party gets the drubbing that Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, assorted congressional scandals, and those awful poll numbers all point to, then the message for 2008 will be different: Republicans must look beyond that loyalist base and care more, as they used to, about support from uncommitted voters.
Er, I think that is going to be obviously true even if Republicans lose a significant number of seats but retain control of both houses. Let''s face it, what is driving the Republican Party in this election is the same lame approach that the Dems have been using, "We're not as bad as the other guys." Weak, just weak.
[Is there a common view among the neglected electorate?]One answer, so I read, is that an important part of the uncommitted vote has "liberal" values in the traditional English sense of that term. In the United States such people have to be called "libertarians" or "classical liberals" -- words uncommon in current political discourse, which is revealing in itself. These are citizens who favor limited government in economic affairs (unlike the Democratic base) but also in social and cultural matters (unlike the Republican base). They are instinctively pro-market, wary of big government, and no more than moderately egalitarian, which inclines them to vote Republican -- or it used to, anyway, when Republicans cared about curbing public spending. But at the same time, they are offended by what happens when politics meets evangelical religion. They take a generally permissive view of private morality, are not much devoted to tradition, and are broadly welcoming of technological and cultural innovation, rather than anxious about it. These views incline them to vote Democratic.
I think that is largely correct and tells us why the prioritized issue of the day, whatever that voter thinks it is, probably decides this voter one way or the other. But Cook does leave out entirely in this paragraph foreign policy. Even the Libertarian/Classic Liberal grouping breaks down once that is introduced. Pure Libertarianism only fights in immediate self defense while other members of that group would include "interests" beyond mere immediate self-defense as legitimate causes for action. Pure Libertarians usually don't support foreign aid etc, others in the group would and do.
The question is, how much of the moving middle (if it is a "middle") does this libertarian tendency really occupy? Are there as many libertarians as muddle-headed vacillators? Do they outnumber switchers who vote for personalities, not policies? A new study by David Boaz and David Kirby for the Cato Institute (a think tank dedicated to the classical liberal cause) says that the libertarian vote is big enough to be worth capturing. Indeed, the authors say, it is capable of swinging elections.
My own answers to the three questions put me in the libertarian camp, by the way, so I would love Boaz and Kirby to be correct. But you have to wonder. The polling analysis that so pleases them leaves me feeling a bit lonely. Can it be right that barely 10 percent of respondents give what I would have regarded as characteristically American answers to the three questions? (I say that as a Brit. I also find myself wondering whether there are more libertarians in Britain -- or in France, for heaven's sake -- than America's paltry one in 10.)
If the 10% all voted, this is a huge block. But I have no idea whether Libertarians vote out of proportion to the general electorate.
And how much effort are these voters worth? Although it is true that the libertarian vote is up for grabs, in other ways it is a tactically unappealing target, because it will always be up for grabs...you will never turn a libertarian into a loyalist of any party.
That is not all. Because they are skeptical not just about government but also about politics and the people who devote their lives to it, libertarians may be disinclined to get out and vote...[the] temperament is close to the one that wearily says, "I cannot be bothered and want nothing to do with this process." Disenchanted and few in number: Why spend limited resources on reaching them? Libertarians are disenfranchised for a reason.
Yup, we get what we deserve on this one. Activism runs counter to our temperament. As such, persuading such thinkers regularly is a difficult, perhaps impossible, task. As I said, the question becomes what is the individual's priorities at a given moment becomes the determinant of the vote.
The American idea -- expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution -- is quintessentially a classical liberal idea. It is all there: Limited government; checks and balances; civil liberty and economic liberty. Libertarians won those arguments, but they have been on the losing side for about the last 70 years.
Yup, and we're probably going to stay there. Right now the only thing each party can do is tell us they aren't as bad as the other guys. For my money the Republicans have the better case, but I suspect lots of pure libertarians would disagree.