Using the generally accepted (but not fastidious) definition of "libertarian" as "socially liberal and fiscally conservative," a public opinion survey reported in Sunday's Washington Post finds -- but does not say outright -- that 16% of independents and 5% of all voters are (or ought to be considered) "libertarians."
Veteran Post political correspondent David Broder writes in Sunday's Outlook pages about the large bloc of independents, who have proven to be the swing voters in recent elections:
These are the swing voters who usually decide close elections, the ones who split their votes between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry in 2004 and swung strongly to the Democrats in the midterm elections of 2006....The survey to which Broder refers is found on the Post's front page, reported under the headline "A Political Force With Many Philosophies." Using the polling data, staff writers Dan Balz and Jon Cohen identify five main categories of independents: "Deliberators," 'Disillusioned," "Dislocated," "Disguised Partisans," and "Disengaged."
While these independents swung substantially to the Democratic side in 2006, 77 percent of them say they would seriously consider voting for an independent if one were running. Doing so wouldn't be new for many of them; half of them say they already have voted for independent or third-party candidates for president or statewide office.
And there are a lot more of them now than there were back in 1992, when Ross Perot made his third-party run, let alone earlier years when John B. Anderson and George C. Wallace tried. Estimates now are that 30 percent or more of American voters consider themselves independents -- almost as many as call themselves Democrats and outnumbering the Republicans.
The category "Dislocated" is the one closest to what most people would tag as libertarians. In the main body of their article, Balz and Cohen write:
The ideologically Dislocated are far more likely to say that the Democrats better represent their views on social issues, while a majority asserted that the government in Washington is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. They are also the least religious of any of the five groups.In a sidebar (one of five, with one for each identified group), they expand on this description:
These independents are overwhelmingly socially liberal and fiscally conservative, making them uncomfortable with increasingly polarized parties.Although only one-third of this group self-identify as libertarian, the whole category sure sounds libertarian to me.
They are ideologically dislocated. But they are engaged and active.
Nearly two-thirds are male and they are the least religious of any segment. Three in 10 profess no religion, nearly half rarely or never attend services and six in 10 want religion to play a more limited role in public life.
A quarter volunteer that neither party represents their views on the budget and effective governmental management.
They are the most likely of any group to get “a lot” of their political information from the web. A third described themselves as “libertarians,” 46 percent as “progressives.”
For 2008, the dislocated are a prime Democratic target, but depending on the Republican nominee, this could be a GOP opportunity.
The bad news, of course, is that this core of libertarian voters -- at least according to this particular poll -- amounts to no more than one-twentieth of the electorate. This will have to affect how libertarian political activists -- including leaders of the Libertarian Party and the Republican Liberty Caucus, among other groups -- develop strategies to recruit candidates for public office, find and reach potential voters, and persuade people to cast their ballots for libertarian or libertarian-leaning candidates.
Not wanting to sound discouraged (or discouraging), this certainly has all the earmarks of a Sisyphean task.