Libertarians In Name Only

by Dish Staff

Tim Fernholz highlights new Pew data on libertarianism in America, which shows that only 11 percent self-describe as libertarian and understand what the term means:

The survey showed a fairly even split among Americans considering whether the regulation of businesses does more harm than good, or if aid for the poor helps or hinders, though a majority does think that corporations make too much profit. Libertarians, meanwhile, leaned strongly against any interference in business or help to the poor, though not as strongly as you might think: 41% of libertarians saw government regulation of business as necessary, and 38% supported aid to the poor.

Indeed, perhaps the most interesting finding is that self-described libertarians favor US involvement in world affairs more than the average citizen, despite their reputation for an isolationist lean. And, even more weirdly, 16% of libertarians said US citizens need to be willing to give up some privacy in exchange for greater security.

Kilgore thinks that “Pew has at the very least cast some massive doubt on all that ‘libertarian moment’ polling from Reason“:

These findings of the non-particularity of “libertarian” views, mind you, is after Pew has melted the category down from 17% of the public to 11%, since a lot of “libertarians” could not accurately distinguish “libertarian” from “communist” or—get this—“Unitarian.”

Allahpundit’s analysis:

What you’re seeing in the poll results, I think, is a bunch of doctrinaire libertarians having their brand diluted by a bunch of conservatives/Republicans who are disgusted with those labels right now, for whatever reason, and are thus hoping to claim “libertarianism” for themselves. Do you support aggressive policing, a muscular foreign policy, and a social safety net but are disgusted with how big and intrusive the federal government’s gotten and how complacent the GOP has gotten about it? Congrats, you might be a “libertarian.” In fact, this reminds me of what David Frum said recently about the “libertarian moment”: It’s not so much that conservatives are turning into doctrinaire libertarians, he argued, as that they’re attracted in the age of Hopenchange to the broad libertarian critique that government is malignant, not merely inefficient and stupid. That’s how you get the sort of “libertarians” captured in the poll. They’re deeply distrustful of government writ large, but ask them about particular manifestations of government power — the welfare state, the police, etc — and they’re more simpatico.