Poll: 22 percent of Americans lean libertarian

October 29, 2013

A new poll shows nearly one-quarter of Americans qualify as libertarians or lean toward a libertarian political philosophy.

The poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute, shows just 7 percent of Americans are "consistent" libertarians, but that another 15 percent sympathize with its general principles.

The poll also shows libertarians identify much more with the GOP (43 percent) than with the Democratic Party (5 percent), but half identify with neither party.

The libertarian movement is largely homogeneous. It is strongly non-Hispanic white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50 years old) and male (68 percent).

About four in 10 identify as members of the tea party movement (39 percent), while 61 percent do not. More Republicans identify with the tea party (20 percent) than with libertarians (12 percent).

Libertarians have gained political power in recent years, thanks in large part to the ascendance of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) in the 2012 presidential race. Paul previously ran as the Libertarian party presidential nominee in 1988.

His son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), also identifies with a libertarian political philosophy (as well as the tea party) but differs from his father on issues of foreign policy, in particular.

The Libertarian Party nominee in 2012, former Republican New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, took more raw votes than any Libertarian nominee in history, winning about 1 percent of the popular vote -- just less than the previous percentage high of 1.1 percent.

Libertarian nominees for Senate, governor and the House have also been upping their vote totals in a handful of states and are increasingly looked at as potential spoilers -- i.e. taking votes that otherwise might have gone to Republicans.

The Libertarian nominee in next week's Virginia governor's election, Robert Sarvis, polled at 8 percent in a new Washington Post poll.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Ed O'Keefe | October 29, 2013