Saturday, November 11, 2006

Balance of Power

A few comments on the recent election and related matters:

1. Like some, but surely not all, libertarians, I was hoping that the Democrats would get control of at least one house, and so was glad that they did. Gridlock is your friend.

2. A single senate seat made the difference between a Democratic majority and a Republican majority. In Montana, the Democratic candidate got 49% of the vote, the Republican 48%, and the libertarian candidate 3%; while one cannot be sure what would have happened if there had been no LP candidate, that at least suggests that, absent the LP, the Republicans would still hold the Senate. I have not looked at the House races to see if there is a similar pattern there.

3. The Democrats' hair thin majority depends on two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joseph Lieberman. On the face of it, that ought to give each of them enormous leverage. My guess is that, in the current political situation, supporting the Republicans is not a practical option for either, however, so I’m not sure how that potential leverage will affect actual committee assignments and the like. It should be interesting.

4. A recent publication from the Cato Institute analyzes the libertarian role in American electoral politics, using a much broader category than LP voters. Defining a libertarian as someone who responds like a liberal to poll questions on social issues and like a conservative to poll questions on economic issues, the authors find that libertarians make up about ten to twenty percent of the electorate. That’s far from a majority, but still a big voting bloc—probably bigger, for instance, than the black vote.

Most interesting, they find that that bloc is shifting its vote. In 2000, Bush got 72% of the libertarian vote. In 2004, he was down to 59%, while the Democrats almost doubled their share. If they had done a little better, they would have won.

This supports the argument I made almost a year ago, suggesting that the Democrats ought to be trying to pull libertarians, broadly defined, out of the Republican coalition. I will take this opportunity to repeat the suggestion I made there, that the Democrats should come out in support of medical marijuana, either in the form of a change in federal law or of a policy of deference to state law. It would be a clear symbolic signal to libertarians, broadly defined, and I don’t think it would alienate much of the present Democratic base.


Anonymous said...

Lieberman, because he was a democrat, will retain his seniority as long as he continues to caucus with them. My loose understanding is that seniority is a bit deal in Congress.

John T. Kennedy said...

"Gridlock is your friend."

What makes you think you'll get gridlock when Bush never vetoes anything?

"Defining a libertarian as someone who responds like a liberal to poll questions on social issues and like a conservative to poll questions on economic issues, the authors find that libertarians make up about ten to twenty percent of the electorate."

That sounds terribly encouraging until you learn that 80% of these "libertarians" (chosen specifically for their conservatism on economic issues) favor increasing the minimum wage.

And why stop there? Why not redefine libertarians until you have a clear majority? Then libertarians will start winning elections across the country!

montestruc said...

John T. Kennedy said,

"What makes you think you'll get gridlock when Bush never vetoes anything?"

Bush has never had to deal with a majority Democratic congress. I predict the first Bush veto will be seen next spring.

Anonymous said...

Probably the #1 reason why libertarians (broadly defined) vote Republican is that they believe Democrats want to increase their taxes, while many Republicans pledge not to raise taxes no matter what.

Does liberalism require ever-higher taxes? I don't think so. Democrats can fund their priorities the same way Republicans do - by borrowing and/or de-funding non-priorities.

John T. Kennedy said...


"Bush has never had to deal with a majority Democratic congress."

We know he's had to deal with bills he'd promised constituents he'd veto, like the McCain/Fiengold campaign finance reform bill. He called it unconstitutional, then signed it into law.

A Democratic congress has a lot of ways to make Bush's next two years unpleasant. Why not cut deals and sign bills to placate them?

Do you think Bush will veto Democratic bills because he's now a man of principle? Or because he needs to appease his base to get re-elected?

Anonymous said...

montestruc: Bush already did his first veto. It was the embryonic stem-cell bill.

john: I suspect the reason for that answer by "libertarians" as defined in that survey is a combination of an info deficiency (they don't realize what the minimum wage actually does) & familiarity (it's been around so long that people see no point in questioning it). Notice that in the survey EVERY group they defined supported raising the minimum wage at a similar rate, even the conservatives.

Sometimes it seems we forget that the average person doesn't think about politics as much as we do. Ideological consistency is rare for that reason.

Anonymous said...

Besides, some people have arguements for certain things that are situation-dependant. For example: The "libertarians" that didn't agree with making the Bush tax cuts permament are more than likely defecit hawks in a way, answering within the realization that spending isn't being cut.

Swimmy Lionni said...

The economist blog asked whether gridlock is really your friend. Perhaps it would be the case if Democrats had one house, or Republicans had both houses with a Democrat president, but I see no reason to believe it will be favorable to libertarian preferences this time around.

John T. Kennedy said...

The group which is broadly defined as libertarians is identified as wanting less government involvement in social social issues and less government involvement in the economy. That being the case, why don't we identify them as anarchists? (Broadly defined of course) Then we can say that 10-20% of Americans are anarchists, broadly defined.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's time for the world's leading democracy to implement proportional representation so that we can actually vote for political parties that align with our views instead of the two colluding dominant parties.

Anonymous said...

Gridlock is our friend, yes--but we'll only have it for two years. Then we'll get a Democrap president, and they'll pick up a few more seats in Congress on his/her coattails. I'm sure Dr. Friedman remembers the Lyndon Johnson era, and I doubt that his memories are any fonder than mine.

I agree with js290 about proportional representation. For single-office races, such as governorships, I'd like to see Instant Runoff Voting. Anything to allow people to vote their conscience without fear that doing so will lead to the lesser evil losing to the greater.

Anonymous said...

There's really no technical barriers from implementing a transparent and reliable electronic voting system. Then again, why would either Democrats or Republicans want such a system?

Anonymous said...

The broadly defined libertarian block -- liberals on social policy and conservatives on fiscal policy -- are not likely to move to Dems because of a position on marijuana. They already believe the Democratic Party is the party of social liberals, as it is. What they need to be convinced of is that the Dems are economically conservative: lower taxes, lower regulation, etc.

I suppose there is also the issue of foreign policy, where the broadly defined libertarian "block" is likely split.

That said, I think marijuana use is a pretty small wedge for the Dems.

Anonymous said...

In Australia, we have preferential voting.

So you can vote for whichever minor party you like, and number your preferences right down to the last candidate.

So in the end, you can make a choice between the two major parties without giving first preference to them.

And in the upper house, there is proportional representation within each state (each state has 6 senators elected at each election) so a minor party needs only around 15% or so of the vote to get a senate seat, so often minor parties end up with the balance of power.

Anonymous said...

Communicating with John is like making love to a brick.

Justin said...

Speaking as both a social and an economic conservatives who has no desire to vote Democratic, I think it would be good for both parties and America as a whole if the libertarians (broadly defined) vote for Democrats.

For an idea to win broad mainstream success, it must reach enough popularity to where it becomes a wedge issue to the other party. Having some devout free market supporters solidly in the Democratic fold will encourage this. Libertarians can evangalize free markets much more successfully by staying in the "safe ground" of possessing solid Democratic credentials, and then departing from the party line on economics. But if the defend free markets with an [R] after their name, it will automatically raise defenses.

John Lott said...

I wonder how much the size and thus the compostion of people who define themselves as libertarians has changed over time. I may have missed it in the Cato piece, but while they talk about a lot changes over time in how libertarians vote, there is only the one 15 percent measure of the number of people who count themselves currently as libertarian. If there are substantial changes in the share of people who classify themselves as libertarian, this could explain the other changes. For example, suppose the war caused people who previously considered themselves to be libertarian in part because of their views on the military to now be more classified as conservatives. That by itself could possibly explain the changes from 2000 to 2004. Information on the series of questions used to classify people would also be useful.