The report is here.
If you actually read it it becomes deeply questionable in the first few pages, actually somewhat laughably so, in a way that should make Brookings and the authors and “researchers” of the study ashamed, if they are capable of shame. It was probably a red flag that Brookings Senior Fellow and Washington Post
flak E.J. Dionne, not the brightest bulb, was a panelist. To take the most obvious example, the people being counted as “libertarians” in this study, counted as “libertarians” because of how they answered some very broad questions by the “researchers,” only favor marijuana legalization by 70%. Apparently they counted Ann Coulter as a libertarian. In fact in many of the extremely broad questions asked to identify the “libertarians,” the “libertarians” only give the libertarian answer about two thirds of the time. An actual group of libertarians should favor not just marijuana legalization, but decriminalization of all drugs, by 100%. The group surveyed seem to oppose gay marriage by a small majority, and only 65% of them oppose minimum wage laws. They simply aren’t libertarians.
More fundamental these authors are trapped in the binary left-right, limited, one dimensional thinking libertarians rejected decades ago, as shown in the well know World’s Smallest Political Quiz, where the same type of questions are asked, but people are placed in a two dimensional space along two axes. The Brookings authors essentially want to separate people into advocates of expanded state power, whom they call “communalists” since in their assumptions state power is good for society and community, and any who rejects that, whom they call libertarians. They then have to go back and attempt to correlate their muddled one dimensional sorting with their other conventional dichotomies of liberal/conservative and Republican/Democrat. Their project is basically intellectually bankrupt. The only thing new is that they noticed there is a word “libertarian” that some people use, and that is seems to be involved in the motivations of some tea party types and arguments among some Republicans.
If this study were actually competent then integrating it with previous surveys of tea parties, like those published in the New York Times, would produce interesting conclusions. For example, in other surveys of the tea party, tea partiers were found to be much more female and more non-white than portrayed in the media and among pundits. (And as someone who has gone to every single DC tea party protest I can tell you they are usually half female.). So if libertarians, who these authors say are mainly male, are part of the tea party (a position I am willing to posit but which many libertarians routinely reject) the non-libertarian tea partiers must be way over half female, far more than a quarter non-white, etc.
The authors have done a study that is essentially worthless. At least a third of their “libertarians” are demonstrably not libertarian. Since the sample is muddied, all the demographic data, correlations, etc. etc. in this study are worthless, since the sample is beyond tainted with non-libertarians.
After PRRI CEO Robert Jones outlined some of the survey’s main points, including the finding that 7 percent of Americans are “consistent libertarians” and 15 percent “lean libertarian,” the panelists engaged in a lively discussion about the nature of libertarianism; its differences and striking similarities to and from both tea party conservatism and liberalism; and the power and political possibilities of libertarianism.
Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that “the political ecosystem may be changing.” She specifically mentioned that “people are moving in a more liberal direction on many values questions” and yet the “‘libertarian’ label does not seem to be catching fire.”
Brink Lindsey, vice president for research at the Cato Institute, defined the libertarian movement as “an impulse” and a “streak” in the American public. He spoke from his own standpoint that although libertarianism has been connected with the Republican Party, “the libertarian worldview … is one that sees itself as neither on the left nor the right.”
Lindsey believed that an economically conservative and socially liberal movement, in keeping with libertarian political views, would be beneficial for the entire country. However, he also mentioned that “conflation of good ideas with popular ideas is something that’s a great temptation for Washington pundits and almost always leads them into error.” He concluded that “the changes in American population over the coming decades are not going to be favorable for groups who see the American ideal as the white-bred, Ozzie and Harriet 1950s.”
Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, proposed two questions, the answer to both being “no.”
1. “Is libertarianism, or some hard form of it, preparing to displace conservatism as the political heart of the conservative movement in the Republican Party?”
2. “Does the GOP need to become more libertarian consistently in order to win general elections?”
Libertarian “political force is minimized because of [where] they live,” he said. Libertarians are spread out evenly across the country whereas the white evangelicals are concentrated in more traditionally Republican places in the south and border states. He agreed, however, that there may be policy reasons for trying to have people lean libertarian” but added the caveat that it is not politically smart.
Galston, from the Governance Studies program, drew the discussion away from the libertarian association with the Republican Party to focus on the relationship between libertarians and liberals on social issues. Access to abortion and euthanasia are two issues on which both libertarians and liberals agree, Galston pointed out, and that this might be a result of the “lower than average propensity to intense religiosity” in both of these groups. Both liberals and libertarians would answer “do we own ourselves? Or does God own us?” in the same way, he said.
Yet Galston also pointed out that there are fundamental disagreements between libertarians and liberals when it comes to the questions of what is harm to self and what is harm to others. Similarly, libertarians are much more likely to have come from a religious family and are therefore “appear to be more open to religion than liberals.”