Libertarian—or fiscally conservative, socially liberal—voters are often torn between their aversions to the Republicans' social conservatism (and, for some of them, military adventurism) and the Democrats' fiscal irresponsibility. Usually they end up voting on the basis of economics.
Research that David Kirby and I have done shows that libertarian-leaning voters have typically given up to 70 percent of their votes to Republicans. But in 2004 and 2006, that number fell off sharply. Republican congressional candidates barely held a majority of libertarian votes in 2006, and of course the Republicans took a pounding in that election.
Why did those voters turn away from the Republicans? Well, Bush and the Republican Congress stuck to their social-conservative guns: they sought to ban gay marriage, limit stem cell research, and insert the federal government into Terry Schiavo’s hospital room.
They got bogged down in an unnecessary and endless war, and they asserted extraordinary powers of surveillance and arrest. Meanwhile, they managed to add more than a trillion dollars to the federal budget and launched the biggest new entitlement since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. So those who had been willing to accept some social conservatism as the price of fiscal responsibility realized they’d made a bad bargain.
Some of those independents voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008, figuring that the Democrats would be more tolerant and could hardly be more profligate. And what are they now seeing?
President Obama is exceeding all their fears on fiscal and economic issues. After promising a “net spending cut” during the campaign and denouncing “the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history,” he has sent federal spending and the deficit soaring into the stratosphere.
Meanwhile, he’s not delivering what some of his voters hoped for on social issues. No gay marriage, even as Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, conservative superlawyer Ted Olson, and the legislature of crusty New Hampshire sign on.
No end to the drug war, even though he’s the third president in a row to have acknowledged using drugs. He even mocked a question about drug legalization at his online town hall. (“Dude, we elected that guy, what’s up with that?” is Reason editor Matt Welch’s summary of the blogosphere’s reaction.) No pullout from Iraq.
So once again fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters are starting to wonder if they made a bad bargain.
Which could go a long way toward explaining the increasing liberal Democratic stridency about the fringe nature of all who oppose President Obama's initiatives that I discussed earlier today.