Libertarianism may be en vogue right now, but that doesn’t mean that self-described libertarians have any idea what it means. According to a new Pew Research poll, 23 percent of libertarians don’t know what libertarianism is, and among those that do, their views differ very little from the general public on just about everything. So, they really don’t know what it means either.
After parsing out the people who both define themselves as libertarians and know the definition of libertarianism (which turned out to be 11 percent of the people they interviewed), they asked them a series of questions on personal responsibility, foreign policy and social issues that should have been easy answers for true, honest-to-goodness libertarians. Yet their answers don’t exactly reflect a true understanding of what it means to be a “libertarian.”
While there are many things in this poll I find bizarre, this one is the most striking:
This question is essentially asking them if they approve of stop and frisk. For a true libertarian, such a huge assertion of government power would be a massive no-no. Searching me without a warrant? Violating my privacy like that? Absolutely not. But there is almost no variation from the general public on this one.
Does the idea that libertarians would be more in favor of an active U.S. government than the rest of America strike you as odd? It should.
Or what about this?
While “libertarians” are certainly less in favor of government regulation of business than the rest of Americans, they don’t differ as strongly as you might assume.
Libertarianism is a pretty new fad in the scheme of things. The rise of Ron and Rand Paul-style libertarianism has hit an all-time high with young voters, who overran CPAC this year with crazy ideas like marijuana legalization and being OK with gay people. But the popularity doesn’t seem to have translated into actual understanding. Even the 11 percent polled here, who ostensibly know the definition, don’t seem to understand what it means in practice.
So, if you — like the New York Times — think the United States might be having a “Libertarian moment,” you might want to think again.