alien & sedition.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
  Right-Wing Think Tank Review - 2/6/07

Cato Institute (Sourcewatch profile here)

"Libertarian Voters in 2004 and 2006" (Cato Policy Report: Jan/Feb 2007)

Article by David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, and David Kirby, executive director of America's Future Foundation.

Boaz and Kirby use poll data to show that the 2004 and 2006 elections have found "libertarian-leaning voters" moving increasingly into the Democratic column. While it's generally understood that Republicans lost heavily among independents in 2006, the authors seek to show that libertarians "may be the largest bloc of such independent-minded swing voters." If this is the case, if "libertarians are a bigger share of the electorate than the much-discussed 'soccer moms' or 'NASCAR dads,'" and if their votes are up for grabs, then parties should seek to address specifically libertarian concerns in order to win elections.

However, the article, in my analysis, is not entirely convincing on two important - and related - levels:
  1. Defining "libertarian voters," and

  2. Determining what motivated these voters in '04 and '06.
The authors report that they have selected questions from a number of polls about American political attitudes, arriving at results that suggest that about 14% of American voters can be "classified as libertarians." However, they do not disclose specifically what those questions are. They also rely on data from a poll they themselves commissioned from Zogby International, which identifies 15% of voters as "libertarian," but they don't provide or link to the full results of this poll (For more on questions regarding Zogby's special-interest polls, and specifically those commissioned by Cato, see this Chris Mooney article from the American Prospect).

Boaz and Kirby report that, in 2004, "the libertarian vote for Bush dropped from 72 to 59 percent, while the libertarian vote for the Democratic nominee almost doubled." They continue:
It’s not hard to imagine why. Bush’s record on federal spending, centralization of education, expansion of entitlements, the war in Iraq, executive authority, the federal marriage amendment, and civil liberties was certainly sufficient to dissuade many libertarian voters.
This, however, fails to distinguish among these potential motives, providing no indication of whether "libertarian" voters were more displeased by the war in Iraq or by "centralization of education."

The trend continued in 2006:
After two more years of war, wiretapping, and welfare-state social spending, we found similar patterns in 2006. In the Zogby survey, 59 percent of libertarians voted for Republican candidates for Congress, and 36 percent voted for Democrats. Comparing those results to the last off-year election in 2002, we find a 24 percentage point swing to the Democrats.
An interesting note: as measured by Boaz and Kirby, "The libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls, and it is subject to swings more than three times as large."

The authors' Zogby poll apparently does provide a breakdown of these voters' motivations in 2006:
Libertarians who said the war in Iraq was the most important issue voted 64-31 for Democratic congressional candidates. Libertarians who stuck with Republican candidates were most likely to describe terrorism or security as the most important issue. Libertarians for whom federal spending was the most important issue were most likely to vote for third-party candidates: 39 percent Democratic, 38 percent Republican, 22 percent other.
Once again, however, the authors do not provide the raw numbers. How many of those libertarians said the war in Iraq was the most important issue? How many cited federal spending? Of course, those numbers, representing the opinions of 15% of respondents to a poll of 1,012 voters, would be subject to a margin of error of roughly 10%. Based on the information Boaz and Kirby provide, it's difficult to extrapolate that there is a significant swing vote motivated directly by opposition to "welfare-state social spending." To be fair, the authors mostly avoid making any claims that would privilege economic motives over others. But we should be cautious about rushing to assume that, if libertarian voters are swinging elections, politicians should therefore make it a priority to focus their attacks on entitlements. Indeed, for instance, one of the surveys cited by the authors, the 2004 Pew Values poll, indicated a sharp drop in anti-government sentiment since 1994, and a corresponding rise in public support for the idea of a social safety net.

And who are those libertarian voters, anyway? Again, the authors are appropriately cautious:
Certainly we are not claiming that 15 percent of American voters have the deep and well-informed commitment to liberty and limited constitutional government of Cato Sponsors or Reason magazine readers. Rather, we include both individuals who would self-identify as libertarian and individuals who hold generally libertarian views but may be unfamiliar with the word.
The authors recognize the limits of ideological self-identification polls, which are in my view the least useful measure of public political attitudes. Of course, it behooves them to recognize this, as "only 9 percent of voters with libertarian views identify themselves that way."

Thus, they ask an additional question:
We asked half the sample, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal?” We asked the other half of the respondents, “Would you describe yourself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian?”
The problem is that this question also relies on self-identification, only at another level. It's still left to the respondent to interpret the meaning of "liberal" and "conservative." And this allows for a tremendously broad interpretation: no wonder that 59% of respondents answered "yes" to the first question. "Fiscally conservative and socially liberal" is a phrase that has frequently been used to describe Howard Dean - and many of the "Deaniacs" who were lampooned as wacky leftists; it could also apply to many, if not most, of the posters at Daily Kos - including Markos himself.

The authors themselves admit that this number is "overinclusive," though they find it "encouraging." I am still unclear as to how they then arrived at the 15% figure - I couldn't find where they had reported any further screening questions. Boaz and Kirby provide some interesting indications that the libertarian constituency, such as it is, may increasingly operate as a swing vote. But the who, why, and how much of this story remains far from clear.

Heritage Foundation (Sourcewatch profile here)

"Bush Budget Reins in Entitlement Costs" (WebMemo no. 1341, 2/5/07)

Article by Brian M. Riedl, "Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Insitute for Economic Policy Studes at the Heritage Foundation."

Riedl praises the president's budget for its "focus on entitlements."
The impending retirement of 77 million baby boomers will trigger a $39 trillion tsunami of unfunded entitlement costs over the next 75 years.[1] The good news for the younger Americans who will pick up this tab for retiring baby boomers is that President Bush's budget begins to seriously address this challenge by proposing real reforms that could slice $8 trillion from Medicare's total unfunded liability.
Specifically, Riedl is pleased with the proposal to require wealthy retirees to pay higher premiums, as well as to modify the "market basket" of Medicare payment plans, so as to pay less money to doctors and hospitals over time. However, he indicates that Medicare is still fundamentally flawed from a conservative perspective, arguing, as many conservatives do, in favor of a "defined contribution" scheme that would de-collectivize it.

Riedl also defends Bush's request to extend his notorious tax cuts:
By increasing incentives to work, save, and invest, reduced tax rates played a key role in the expanding business investment, job growth, and the stock market gains that have powered recent years' economic growth.
(By contrast, this article suggests that the tax cuts have not resulted in increased business investment or in higher wages for American workers.)

The article also further indicates how the right will frame the battle over extension of the tax cuts: as a fight over a tax increase:
Letting the tax cuts expire--or worse, repealing them--would be a major tax increase for millions of Americans. [...]

The federal budget's problems do not stem from Americans being undertaxed, but rather from Washington spending too much. In order to prevent one of the largest tax increases in American history, Congress should follow the President's lead by extending the current tax policies.
Of course, when they were proposed, the cuts were only supposed to be temporary - so one could argue that it was Bush himself who "planned" this massive tax "increase."

As for who this "increase" will primarily affect, see this study.

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We real libertarians laugh at the likes of Howard Dean and Markus Moulitas describing themselves as "fiscally conservative/socially tolerant." They are anything but. More like fiscally socialist/socially intolerant.

Democrats don't even support civil liberties any more outside of abortion rights. They're anti-free speech, pro-seat belt laws, pro-cameras in downtowns spying on people, anti-marijuana legalization, and anti-gun rights.

In short, Democrats (with very few exceptions, Joe Lieberman, Bill Richardson and that's about it), pretty much suck all around.

Eric Dondero, CEO
Speaking personally, I'm anti-cameras, pro-marijuana legalization, and fine with gun ownership outside of cities (where it does more harm than good).

Anyway, kind of proves my point: the vague definition of "libertarian voters" doesn't at all describe how libertarian intellectuals themselves define their philosophy.
In September I would have speculated that MS would not be treating a first-tier Los Angeles private equity firm like Blackstone this way. But as the Fall has progressed and the potential liability increased it is clear that banks are willing to risk even their largest clients to wriggle away from some of these deals.
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