A new report by the Pew Research Center finds that about one-in-ten Americans describe themselves as libertarian — and yet hold views that do not differ much from those of the overall public. As Pew’s Jocelyn Kiley says, “Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.”
Overall, 11 percent of Americans describe themselves as libertarian and have a general idea about what the term means. Another 3 percent who described themselves as libertarians were unable to choose the correct term that applied to “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government” (choices were: libertarian, progressive, authoritarian, Unitarian, or communist). Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones confused: only 57 percent of those polled were able to choose the correct term; 1 in 5 thought the term applied to “progressive” and 6 percent thought the answer was “communist”(!).
Almost twice as many men as women self-identify as libertarian (15 percent of men and 7 percent of women). The percentage of Whites and Hispanics who self-describe as libertarian is almost identical (12 and 11 percent, respectively), while only 3 percent black Americans refer to themselves using that term. Libertarians are also more likely to consider themselves political Independents (14 percent) than either Republican (12 percent) or Democrat (6 percent).
The beliefs held by these self-described libertarians were somewhat surprising.