A new Pew Research study shows that the term "libertarian" definitely needs to be in near-permanent quotation marks here in America, because many are anything but.
About one-in-ten Americans (11%) describe themselves as libertarian and know what the term means. Respondents were asked whether the term “libertarian” describes them well and — in a separate multiple-choice question — asked for the definition of “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government”; 57% correctly answered the multiple-choice question, choosing “libertarian” from a list that included “progressive,” “authoritarian,” “Unitarian” and “communist.” On the self-description question 14% said they were libertarian. For the purpose of this analysis we focus on the 11% who both say they are libertarian and know the definition of the term.
These findings come from the Pew Research Center’s political typology and polarization survey conducted earlier this year, as well as a recent survey of a subset of those respondents via the Pew Research Center’s new American Trends Panel, conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults.
Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.
Men were about twice as likely as women to say the term libertarian describes them well and to know the meaning of the term (15% vs. 7%). More college graduates (15%) than those with no more than a high school education (7%) identified as libertarians. There also were partisan differences; 14% of independents and 12% of Republicans said they are libertarian, compared with 6% of Democrats.
The easiest way to view this is substitute "libertarian" with "Ron Paul voter" and you have a really, really good idea of where and what these voters stand for. They are for the most part boilerplate Republicans who happen to like weed and are okay with same-sex marriage.
When it comes to attitudes about the size and scope of government, people who say the term libertarian describes them well (and who are able to correctly define the term) are somewhat more likely than the public overall to say government regulation of business does more harm than good (56% vs. 47%). However, about four-in-ten libertarians say that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest (41%).
The attitudes of libertarians similarly differ from the public on government aid to the poor; they are more likely than the public to say “government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on government assistance” (57% vs. 48%), yet about four-in-ten (38%) say it “does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met.”
Libertarianism is associated with limited government involvement in the social sphere. In this regard, self-described libertarians are somewhat more supportive of legalizing marijuana than the public overall (65% vs. 54%).
But there are only slight differences between libertarians and the public in views of the acceptability of homosexuality. And they are about as likely as others to favor allowing the police “to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect” (42% of libertarians, 41% of the public).
Similarly, self-described libertarians do not differ a great deal from the public in opinions about foreign policy. Libertarianism is generally associated with a less activist foreign policy, yet a greater share of self-described libertarians (43%) than the public (35%) think “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.”
And in views of the tradeoff between defending against terrorism and protecting civil liberties, large majorities of both the public (74%) and self-described libertarians (82%) say “Americans shouldn’t have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism.”
Hate government programs, interventionist foreign policy, don't mind cops profiling people. That's not libertarian, that's Republican. The poster child of this group remains Rand Paul, and he's right there with them.
None of the seven groups identified by the 2014 political typology closely resembled libertarians, and, in fact, self-described libertarians can be found in all seven. Their largest representation is among the group we call Business Conservatives; 27% of this group says the term libertarian describes them well. Business Conservatives generally support limited government, have positive views of business and the U.S. economic system, and are more moderate than other conservative groups on the issue of homosexuality. However, they are also supportive of an activist foreign policy and do not have a libertarian profile on issues of civil liberties.
Surprise! If "Tea Party" is the new Religious Republican, then "libertarian" is the new Corporate Republican.
Don't be fooled by them.