GOP Is Losing Its Libertarian Voters

GOP Is Losing Its Libertarian Voters

Libertarian Party candidates may have cost Senators Jim Talent (R.-Mo.) and Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) their seats, tipping the Senate to Democratic control.

In Montana, the Libertarian candidate got more than 10,000 votes, or 3%, while Democrat Jon Tester edged Burns by fewer than 3,000 votes. In Missouri, Claire McCaskill defeated Talent by 41,000 votes, a bit less than the 47,000 Libertarian votes.
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In our study, “The Libertarian Vote,” we analyzed 16 years of polling data and found that libertarians constituted 13% of the electorate in 2004. Because libertarians are better educated and more likely to vote, they were 15% of actual voters.

Libertarians are broadly defined as people who favor less government in both economic and personal issues. They might be summed up as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” voters.

In the past, our research shows, most libertarians voted Republican—72% for George W. Bush in 2000, for instance, with only 20 percent for Al Gore, and 70% for Republican congressional candidates in 2002. But in 2004, presumably turned off by war, wiretapping, and welfare-state spending sprees, they shifted sharply toward the Democrats. John F. Kerry got 38% of the libertarian vote. That was a dramatic swing that Republican strategists should have noticed. But somehow the libertarian vote has remained hidden in plain sight.

Meanwhile, in the Goldwateresque, “leave us alone” Mountain West, Republicans not only lost the Montana Senate seat; they also lost the governorship of Colorado, two House seats in Arizona, and one in Colorado. They had close calls in the Arizona Senate race and House races in Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Dick Cheney’s Wyoming. In libertarian Nevada, the Republican candidate for governor won less than a majority against a Democrat who promised to keep the government out of guns, abortion, and gay marriage. Arizona also became the first state to vote down a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Presidential candidates might note that even in Iowa libertarians helped vote out a Republican congressman who championed the Internet gambling ban.

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