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News Release: Majority of Libertarians Do Not Identify as Part of the Tea Party Movement, Finds American Values Survey

[10.29.2013]

Libertarians Half as Likely as Tea Party Members To Consider Themselves Part of the Christian Right

Despite conventional wisdom linking the Tea Party movement with the libertarian arm of the Republican Party, a majority of libertarians (61 percent) say they do not consider themselves a part of the Tea Party movement. Libertarians, who comprise seven percent of the public, also hold positions on many important economic and social issues that are distinct from the Tea Party and Republicans overall, finds the 2013 American Values Survey.

2013.AVS 1 320x414 News Release: Majority of Libertarians Do Not Identify as Part of the Tea Party Movement, Finds American Values Survey

The annual look at religion, values and public policy in America from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute finds libertarians make up a smaller portion of the Republican Party than other conservative constituency groups. Twelve percent of self-identified Republicans are libertarian, compared to 20 percent of Republicans who identify with the Tea Party and 33 percent who say they belong to the religious right or conservative Christian movement.

Libertarians are also half as likely as those who identify with the Tea Party movement to say they consider themselves part of the Christian right. Only 1-in-5 (22 percent) libertarians say they belong to the religious right or conservative Christian movement. However, about half (52 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement say they are a part of the Christian right, a connection that has held steady since PRRI began tracking this relationship in 2010.

“This new research reveals a libertarian constituency in America that is distinct both from the Tea Party and from the Christian right,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “While conventional wisdom has assumed that the Tea Party movement is fueled by libertarian convictions, most libertarians see themselves as outside of the Tea Party movement. Notably, libertarians are also half as likely as those who identify with the Tea Party movement to see themselves as part of the older Christian right movement.”

The new survey finds that, compared to the general population, libertarians are composed of a disproportionately high number of white mainline Protestants (27 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (27 percent). Only 11 percent of libertarians identify as Catholic, while no libertarians identify as black Protestant.

Libertarians are also significantly more likely than the public to be non-Hispanic white, male and young. Nearly all libertarians are non-Hispanic whites (94 percent), more than two-thirds (68 percent) are men, and more than 6-in-10 (62 percent) are under the age of 50.

“While libertarians are aligned with other key conservative constituencies on economic issues, they are at odds with other conservative groups on a range of social issues,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “A majority of libertarians oppose making it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion, and strongly support legalizing both marijuana and physician-assisted suicide.”

Generally, libertarians are more intensely opposed than Tea Party members and Republicans overall to government involvement across wide range of policies, such as raising the minimum wage, Obamacare and increasing environmental protections. However, libertarians have a distinct profile from other conservatives on social issues. Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) libertarians oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) libertarians favor allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives, and a nearly identical number (71 percent) favor legalizing marijuana.

Among the Findings:

According to a newly developed Libertarian Orientation Scale, less than 1-in-10 (seven percent) Americans are consistent libertarians, and an additional 15 percent lean libertarian. At the other end of the spectrum, an equal number of Americans are consistent communalists (seven percent), and an additional 17 percent lean communalist. A majority (54 percent) of Americans have a mixed ideological profile, falling in between libertarian and communalist orientations.

The party affiliation of libertarians skews significantly more Republican than Democratic. Close to half (45 percent) of libertarians identify as Republican, compared to only five percent who identify as Democrat. However, half of libertarians identify as politically independent (35 percent) or identify with a third political party (15 percent), including roughly 1-in-10 (eight percent) who identify with the Libertarian Party. Roughly 4-in-10 (39 percent) libertarians identify as part of the Tea Party movement, while 61 percent do not.

Generally speaking, libertarians are more opposed than white evangelical Protestants, those affiliated with the Tea Party, and Republicans overall to government involvement across a range of economic policies, such as raising the minimum wage, Obamacare, and increasing environmental protections.

  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of libertarians oppose increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.00 per hour, as do 57 percent of Americans who identify with the Tea Party. By contrast, 57 percent of Republicans overall and 61 percent of white evangelical Protestants support raising the minimum wage.
  • Nearly all (96 percent) libertarians have an unfavorable view of the 2010 health care law, compared to 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 88 percent of Tea Party members, and 89 percent of Republicans.
  • On the issue of passing tougher environmental laws, libertarians and Tea Party members are generally aligned in their strong opposition (73 percent and 74 percent oppose), while white evangelical Protestants and Republicans overall are also opposed but with less intensity (62 percent each opposed).

Unlike economic questions, on which libertarians are generally aligned with other conservative constituencies, libertarians have a more distinct profile on social issues.

  • Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) libertarians oppose making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, a proportion identical to the general population. By contrast, strong majorities of Republicans overall (58 percent), Americans affiliated with the Tea Party (58 percent), and white evangelical Protestants (68 percent) favor making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion.
  • Seven-in-ten (70 percent) libertarians favor allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives. Americans who identify with the Tea Party are closely divided on this question (49 percent favor, 51 percent oppose). By contrast, strong majorities of Republicans (58 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (70 percent) oppose this policy.
  • More than 7-in-10 (71 percent) libertarians favor legalizing marijuana. By contrast, approximately 6-in-10 Republicans (61 percent) and Tea Party members (59 percent) and nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose legalizing marijuana.
  • Unlike most other social issues, libertarians remain socially conservative on same-sex marriage. While a majority (59 percent) of libertarians oppose same-sex marriage, they are significantly less opposed than Republicans overall (67 percent) and than other conservative-leaning groups such as Tea Party members (73 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (80 percent).

A majority (53 percent) of libertarian voters say they always vote in primary elections, a rate comparable to white evangelical Protestant voters (48 percent) and Republican voters overall (50 percent) but significantly lower than the participation rate among Tea Party voters (62 percent).

Notably, libertarians hold more negative views of Democrats than they hold positive views of Republicans. Nearly 9-in-10 (89 percent) libertarians have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party, including nearly two-thirds (64 percent) who have a very unfavorable opinion of the party. A majority (57 percent) of libertarians have a favorable view of the Republican Party, but a substantial minority (40 percent) have an unfavorable view of the GOP.

Among voters who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, support is spread fairly evenly across the potential 2016 presidential field in a head-to-head question. Eighteen percent prefer Governor Chris Christie, 18 percent prefer Congressman Paul Ryan, 15 percent prefer former Governor Jeb Bush, 14 percent prefer Senator Marco Rubio, 11 percent prefer Senator Rand Paul, and 11 percent prefer Senator Ted Cruz.

  • Among libertarian voters who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, Paul (26 percent) was the most popular potential candidate, while 18 percent prefer Cruz, 16 percent prefer Rubio, and 13 percent prefer Ryan. Fewer libertarian voters prefer Christie (10 percent) or Bush (6 percent).
  • Among Tea Party voters who identify or lean Republican, Cruz is the most preferred candidate (22 percent), followed by Rubio (18 percent), Ryan (14 percent), and Paul (13 percent). Roughly 1-in-10 Tea Party voters prefer Bush (11 percent) or Christie (12 percent).
  • White evangelical Protestant voters have less clear candidate preferences than libertarian and Tea Party voters. Among white evangelical Protestant voters who identify or lean Republican, top preferences include Ryan (19 percent), Christie (16 percent), and Bush (15 percent), while roughly 1-in-10 prefer Rubio (13 percent), Paul (11 percent), or Cruz (10 percent).

The 2013 American Values Survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute and made possible by generous funding from the Ford Foundation, with additional support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. The survey was conducted among a random sample of 2,317 adults (age 18 and up) living in the United States and who are part of GFK’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between September 21 and October 3, 2013. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is +/- 2.5 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. 

Read the full report here. Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology, here. Read the news release here.