Libertarian Vote Shifts West To Democrats

Chuck Todd recently discussed how many western states have moved from the Republicans to the Democrats on Meet the Press. He attributed this shift to more libertarian-minded and secular Republicans who have voted Democratic in response to the domination of the Republican Party by the religious right.

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6 Comments

  1. 1
    Mark says:

    I know you’ve been on this generally for awhile, as I have, but if you’ll forgive the intrusion, I had a specific discussion about Western libertarians and Obama a week or so ago, which I discussed here.  I think this movement in Obama’s favor in those areas demonstrates that Obama actually hurts himself to the extent he tries to be perceived as being “centrist” on certain issues, which are the primary reason libertarians have been defecting from the Republican Party.  Libertarian voters, whether consciously or subconsciously, understand that they will disagree with a lot of Obama’s (or any Democrat’s) economic/fiscal policies; but they also tend to understand that the Republicans are no longer much better on those issues and (as or more importantly) that the Republican positions on war, civil liberties, and social freedoms are an immediate threat to what libertarians hold dear.  The fact is that the Dems (including Obama) just aren’t nearly what they used to be on economic/fiscal issues, so there is very little reason for concern about those positions to predominate over our differences with the Republicans.

    This is what has frustrated me about Obama’s position change on FISA especially, and perhaps a handful of other issues (though not Iraq, where I appreciate the nuance of his position)- those changes were simply not necessary as a matter of politics.  For instance, there were only three groups of people who were passionate about FISA: staunch liberals, Republican die-hards on the other side, and libertarians (who make up the vast majority of so-called “Obamacans”).  Nothing Obama did was going to have the least persuasive effect on Republican die-hards, although it was guaranteed to affect the strength of his support from liberals.  But by switching sides, he reduced his appeal to the very group that he is trying to peel away from the Republicans; this demonstrates a lack of understanding on Obama’s part about the nature of his “Obamacans,” and why he’s been able to get their support.  Instead, it suggests that Obama committed the fallacy of believing that Republicans are close to monolithic, and that therefore the way to appeal to relatively open-minded Republicans is to just “be bi-partisan” and therefore demonstrate that Republicans shouldn’t fear Obama.  This is a fallacy though because it fails to understand why certain Republicans are willing to support Obama, which is that these (mostly libertarian) Republicans are appalled at what the Republican Party has become on social and civil liberties and foreign policy.  

    This isn’t to say that this will have a tremendous long-run effect on Obama’s chances, just that it at least temporarily hurt his standing with potential Republican supporters. 

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Mark,

    The questions of how he should have voted on principle and how he should have voted politically are two separate things. We obviously both agree that on principle that he should have voted against the compromise, but the political strategy wasn’t as clear.

    If Obama was looking to pick up libertarian votes, this was also obviously the wrong vote, but I this was not his strategy. He was looking more at the politically less aware voters in the middle, who make up a far greater number of voters than either knowledgeable voters or libertarian-leaning voters. These are the types of voters who fall for the scare tactics of the Republicans.

    The problem Obama had was that a significant number of Democrats were voting for the compromise. Voting for the compromise would cost him few votes as McCain is far worse on the issue, and only a tiny number would consider third party candidates. Voting against the compromise would leave him in the position of being charged with opposing a measure necessary for national security which even many Democrats voted for.

    Unfortunately, given the political realities at the time, virtually any Democratic nominee would have voted for the compromise. If Clinton had been the nominee she would have been pushing heavily for it, but her political calculations changed drastically after losing. It is a shame that the vote did not take place during the primaries. Then Obama would have voted against it, and Clinton would have been torn between going after the party base and pursuing her move towards the center when she believed she would have been the nominee. Most likely Clinton would have voted for the compromise as long as she believed she had a chance at the nomination, while Obama would have voted against.

    From the perspective of maximizing votes, Obama took the wisest course. Still, I had hoped he would do otherwise. In the short run this was the smarter strategy, but in the long run it does nothing to diffuse the typical Republican scare tactics on foreign policy. Considering how much attention Obama now has, and all his advantages in the race, I would have preferred to see him take a chance and stand up for principle, using all the attention on him to explain the problems with the bill. Unfortunately there are so many Republican smears to contend with that it did make sense politically to avoid having to deal with this one.

  3. 3
    Mark says:

    I disagree, for a couple of reasons, though.  First of all, no matter how he voted, the FISA issue just wasn’t the sort of issue that was going to move low-information voters, few of whom have ever even heard of FISA.  Second of all, I think you’re falling into the all-too-deceptive trap of viewing the “center” as monolithic.  Probably my biggest issue of late has been banging the drum that appealing to the political “center” is an essentially meaningless act because the “center” is far too diverse to pigeonhole on any given issue or issues.  I probably best expressed this argument here, although I probably should have titled the post “myth of the centrist” rather than “myth of the moderate,” since I think there’s an important distinction between the two (which is a whole different topic altogether). 

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    I’m not saying that the center is monolithic at all. There are, however, a lot of voters who are still swayed by fear tactics used regarding terrorism. They don’t have to know what FISA is. All they have to hear is that Obama voted something to keep the country safe which his fellow Democrats supported.

  5. 5
    Mark says:

    While I agree with you, I believe at this point pretty strongly that all or most of those voters (at least those for whom “security” broadly stated is a litmus test issue) are no longer what you’d call “swing voters,” but are instead relatively partisan Republicans.  Unfortunately, I have no way of proving this, so I could well be wrong…but I haven’t seen any polling either way (and frankly I’m not sure you could design a poll that would do a good job fleshing that out).   What I do know is that there is some pretty good data out there to show that using a very broad definition, libertarian-ish voters that make up 10-15% of the electorate have become a swing vote in the last 8 years after decades being almost straight-line Republicans (see the David Boaz report on the libertarian vote in 2006).  Of course, using such a broad definition has problems of its own since it results in greater variation of viewpoints than the more narrowly defined, consciously libertarian voters…but it’s worth noting.  I guess what I’m saying is that there is too often a belief that appearing “bi-partisan” and appealing to independents/swing voters are the same thing.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is not only a case of Republicans voting on security. Even if it isn’t their main issue, there are probably still a lot of low-information voters who are not firmly committed to either party who might be swayed by an argument that Obama voted against a measure which other Democrats voted for. They would add this to the flawed report from The National Journal that Obama is the most liberal Senator.

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