Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Funny, you don't look libertarianish.

 Wherein the Dividist "buries the lede" so deep no one will ever find it.  
Lady Liberty wonders what happened to the libertarians in 2016
 Lady Liberty comments on Lee Drutman Voter Study Group Analysis 
On Sunday, Fareed Zakaria invoked the recent Lee Drutman Voter Study Group (VSG) analysis of the 2016 election.  His opening monologue summarized and repeated the conclusion of his recent Washington Post guest editorial.

The VSG study has become something of a Rorschach Test among the punditocracy. Data on 2016 voter attitudes are distilled into multi-dimensional charts with - sometimes conflicting - analysis of what it all mean. That leaves a lot of room for any good ideologue to find a nugget that will confirm their bias about the election.

We See What We Want To See

For example, the Dividist is of the view that both presidential candidates catered to the worst impulses of their party and to a large degree abandoned any pretense of attracting the sensible center, moderates or independents. In this election that voter block should have swung from Trump to Clinton. Taking centrists for granted had a disproportionate negative affect on the Clinton campaign and may have cost her the election. Without a great deal of difficulty the Dividist can cherry pick support for that perspective in the study:
"Though many on the far left argue that Clinton would have won had she been more progressive and excited more Sanders voters, the data here suggest that Clinton may have lost some Democratic voters because her campaign was too left leaning, particularly on the identity and social issues, but perhaps also some issues of government intervention as well."
For Zakaria, the election was mostly about race and identity saying "The more I study this subject, the more I am convinced that people cast their vote mostly based on an emotional bond with a candidate, a sense that they get each other." He found confirmation for his view in this study:
"Focusing on the people who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 and then Donald Trump in 2016, Drutman found that they were remarkably close to the Democratic Party on economic issues. But they were far to the right on their attitudes toward immigrants, blacks and Muslims, and much more likely to feel “people like me” are on the decline."
Liberal Jamelle Bouie, writing in Slate, is of the view that Democrats need to move in a more populist leftist direction and found confirmation for his views in the study:
"Most populists, according to Drutman, were already Republican voters in the 2012 election... you can draw an easy conclusion about the Clinton campaign—even accounting for factors like misogyny and James Comey’s twin interventions, it failed to articulate an economic message strong enough to keep those populists in the fold and left them vulnerable to Trump’s identity appeal. You could then make a firm case for the future: To win them back, you need liberal economic populism."
New York Post columnist and Trump apologist F.H. Buckley looked at the Drutman study and concludes that the Trump brand of heavy handed, big government, authoritarian economic and cultural interventionist policies are confirmed as the American electoral sweet spot:
"But here’s Drutman’s big surprise. The sweet spot in American politics, the place where elections are won, is the socially conservative and economically liberal quadrant. And the winner is going to be the fellow who’s not going to touch Social Security and who promises to nominate a judge in the mold of Antonin Scalia. Donald Trump, in other words."
He uses the study as a cudgel to dismiss the bedrock intellectual foundation of conservative thought - the Reaganesque preference for free markets and limited government. "Socially conservative and economically liberal" is the polar opposite of libertarian thought, and Buckley seemingly can't wait to push that wing of  Republican Party off the plank of the Trump Party Boat:
"That leaves the marginal third Republican Party, the socially liberal but economically conservative world inhabited by libertarians. That’s the home of Charles Koch and of the politicians and academics in his network of support. They make a lot of noise, but they’re playing above their weight, an army of generals without any troops behind them ... everyone should turn down the poisoned chalice of Koch support."
Again, each of the assertions above about the 2016 electorate are citing the exact same study and data to support their position. Just sayin'

But We Don't See Libertarians

If there is a common perspective on this study shared across the political punditocracy, this may be it: That when looking at the face of the 2016 electorate, it does not look very libertarianish.  The Voter Study Group "Figure 2" Scatterplot (ripped at the top of this post) is the primary data source for this conclusion. Within the study itself, Drutman analyzes the chart like this:
"We can break the electorate into four types, based on their position in the four quadrants of Figure 2:
  • Liberal (44.6 percent): Lower left, liberal on both economic and identity issues
  • Populist (28.9 percent): Upper left, liberal on economic issues, conservative on identity issues
  • Conservative (22.7 percent): Upper right, conservative on both economic and identity issues
  • Libertarian (3.8 percent): Lower right, conservative on economics, liberal on identity issues
... libertarians split almost equally between Clinton, Trump, and others (mostly Johnson). They are, however, a very small proportion of the overall electorate."
Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine, put a more triumphalist spin into his conclusions:
"Libertarians don’t exist... Well, obviously, they exist — just not in any remotely large enough numbers to form a constituency. It’s not just hardcore libertarians who are absent. Even vaguely libertarian-ish voters are functionally nonexistent."
Oh Wait... There They Are

As we might expect, the brains-on-sticks at Cato Institute & Reason Magazine take exception to this characterization:
"Not so fast, says Emily Ekins, the director of polling at the Cato Institute. Libertarians are real, she documents in a new article, and they're spectacular. Responding to Drutman's elimination of libertarians as a meaningful voting block, she emphasizes that his finding is an outlier in the established research:
"It depends on how you measure it and how you define libertarian. The overwhelming body of literature, however, using a variety of different methods and different definitions, suggests that libertarians comprise about 10-20% of the population, but may range from 7-22%."
Those more audibly inclined may find this Nick Gillespie Reason Podcast interview with Emily Ekins about the actual size of  the libertarianish vote more accessible:

Karl Smith at the Niskanen Center found an even more elegant solution to the mystery of the missing libertarians in his post "Libertarians Just Might Exist".  Smith notices that the scatterplot of data along the economic liberal/conservative axis does not follow a normal bell chart distribution. Instead, the most liberal respondents are truncated, compressed and pegged along the left edge of the chart, while there is a lot of empty space on the right side of the center line.  By simply renormalizing the centerline of the axis, we get a chart that conforms more consistently with the research that Elkins cites.

"First, the classic polarization between Democrats and Republican re-emerges. The center-of-mass of the Republican red dots is decidedly socially conservative and leans economically conservative. The center-of-mass of the Democratic blue dots is decidedly socially liberal and leans economically liberal. Second, while there are still—after mild renorming—more populists than libertarians, libertarians definitely exist, especially as you get closer to the center axes. Third, and this is something that rings true, libertarians are more likely to be Clinton voters than Trump voters, though many voted for a third party candidate."
As Smith states, this is not a rigorous refutation of the missing libertarians - that would require a deeper dive into the data -  but it points to a potential problem in the way Drutman scaled the questions, and is more in line with conventional expectations and consistent with other studies that show libertarianish voters in a 10-12% range.

Finding Libertarians is Not A New Game

Over the life of this blog, the Dividist has regularly entertained the question of How many libertarians are there? and Where do they belong?

In 2006, we were faced with a big spending One Party Rule Unified Republican Government creating new entitlements, launching trillion dollar elective wars, and blowing up the deficit and debt. We responded with "Hand-wringing Libertarians" to a series of essays at Cato Unbound worrying about  "The GOP and Limited Government - Do they have a future together?" Ryan Sager chimed in, lamenting the "Hot Tub Libertarians" and taking a stab at the numbers.
"No one ever said that libertarians were organized... But what if they did? How powerful a voting bloc could they be? It's a tough question, and one libertarians have spent far too little time effort researching, but there's a quick and dirty answer: somewhere between 9 percent and 20 percent of the electorate... So, libertarians: It's time to get out of that hot tub! Put down that wrench! And start thinking about how you're going to reclaim your rightful place in the conservative coalition."
In 2010, we were faced with a big spending One Party Rule Democratic Government launching trillion dollar stimulus spending plans that did not stimulate, a trillion dollar reinvention of the healthcare system that no one wanted, expanding executive war powers, and blowing up the deficit and debt.  We answered "The Question Facing Libertarians"  by explaining the correct question was not the hand-wringing question being debated in the August-September issue of Reason - "Where do Libertarians Belong?"  

For those who don't have the time or inclination to read the entire issue, I offered this summary of the wrong-headed propositions on how libertarians should organize their ~10-12% vote:
  • Shorter Brink Lindsey: Libertarians should forget the right and aim for the center. BTW the Tea Party also sucks. 
  • Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Libertarians should forget the left, and stick with the right.
  • Shorter Matt Kibbe: Libertarians should forget the right and left, and work with the Tea Party. BTW Brink Lindsey sucks. 
There was more libertarian navel gazing along the way in My Failed Liberal-tarian Affair, and explaining to Brink Lindsey how libertarians can Overcome Libertarian Electile Dysfunction when he was invoking "a purplish, libertarianish centrism".  And here we are again.

The Buried Lede: It's not the size, it's the motion.

The real question for the libertarianish today, as it was in 2006 and 2010, is not a question about exactly how many libertarians can be found on the head of pin or in the electorate. The real question is about how the libertarianish can be relevant in the 2018 election and how their vote can be organized to affect policy as a meaningful, recognizable political force. The answer for 2018 is the same answer as the Dividist offered in 2006 and 2008 and 2010 and 2012 and 2014 and 2016. To whit:
There is an answer. There is a way to herd these cats. There is a path to imbuing libertarians with policy shifting power and political relevance - an organized libertarianish swing vote.   
A libertarian swing vote organization is going to have to look different than traditional political organization. After all, it is something we will have to accomplish while sitting in the hot tub. What is needed is an organizing principle. Ideally, a principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no contributions or infrastructure are needed. Ideally it is this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote. 
That organizing principle exists. It is voting for Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain spending and the growth of the state. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately. More importantly, it can collectively be implemented individually as we sit in our hot tubs and ponder the sorry state of the world. 
Whatever the percentage of the electorate that libertarians represent, whether it is 6% or 20%, if they vote as a block for divided government, they immediately become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other. Specifically because they are not trying to figure out how big they are or "where they belong". 
If a libertarianish divided government vote is shown to swing elections for two or three cycles, then libertarians will no longer be inchoate, their message no longer diffused, and their political clout no longer flaccid. As long as the bulk of the electorate remain polarized and balanced, even a small percentage libertarianish swing vote organized around divided government will be enough for those libertarians to proudly display the biggest swinging political "hammer" in town.
That's it. That's the answer. 

If we screw it up in 2018, the Dividist will be happy to explain this again in 2020.

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