Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
Libertarians, the Tea Party and White Evangelicals on Abortion, Same-Sex Marriage and Physician-Assisted Suicide
Libertarians are a unique political group. While their political behavior suggests a strongly conservative worldview, when it comes to social issues – including access to abortion, physician-assisted suicide and marijuana legalization – libertarians stand apart from other key conservative constituencies. In general, libertarians are more likely than both Tea Party members and white evangelical Protestants to oppose making it more difficult for women to access abortion services, to favor permitting physician-assisted suicide, and to favor legalizing marijuana. Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) libertarians oppose making abortion access more difficult, a minority view among members of the Tea Party (39 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (29 percent). Seven-in-ten (70 percent) libertarians favor allowing doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives, compared to less than half (49 percent) of Tea Party members and only 29 percent of white evangelical Protestants. Libertarians are also much more supportive of marijuana legalization. More than 7-in-10 (71 percent) libertarians favor legalizing marijuana. By contrast, only 4-in-10 (40 percent) Tea Party members and less than 3-in-10 (29 percent) white evangelical Protestants are in favor of legalizing marijuana.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, this pattern is distinctly different. Libertarians are more closely aligned with the views of Tea Party members and white evangelical Protestants, even if there are differences in the intensity of opposition. Nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) libertarians oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Tea Party members and 8-in-10 (80 percent) white evangelical Protestants. In contrast, a slim majority (52 percent) of Americans overall favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
To learn more about why same-sex marriage serves as the exception to libertarian social views, don’t miss our recent interview with Cato Institute’s Brink Lindsey. And if you want to learn more about libertarians and their relationship to other conservative-leaning constituencies, be sure to check out our recently released 2013 American Values Survey.