The GOP's budding libertarian problem

Beware the Nader effect

Ken Cuccinelli is losing some of the anti-government vote to a libertarian candidate.
(Image credit: (Getty Images/Win McNamee))

Libertarians, known for their opposition to all manner of government intervention, tend to be lumped in with the Republican Party. A new report on libertarianism in America, however, finds a group that "doesn’t fit on the traditional liberal-to-conservative spectrum."

Libertarians — who account for about 10 percent of the population — are not a particularly diverse group. The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that they are almost all white (94 percent) and mostly male (68 percent), with an average age of 44 — three years younger than your average Tea Partier.

But those young, white males have a variety of political allegiances, with less than half of them identifying as Republican.

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Those independent libertarians usually swing right in elections, meaning the GOP can normally count on their support. But at least one ongoing campaign shows that the libertarian wing of the party may be chafing at the dominance of the mother ship.

Enter Robert Sarvis, a member of the Libertarian Party, who is currently pulling in 8 percent of the vote in the Virginia governor's race. Those are voters who, for the most part, would otherwise be voting for Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who is currently trailing former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe by 12 points.

Yes, that's right: It would appear that Republicans in Virginia are undergoing what Democrats know as the Nader effect, with Sarvis playing the spoiler role that the Green Party's Ralph Nader played in the 2000 presidential race, much to Al Gore's chagrin.

Granted, that gap in the polls can't be entirely attributed to the rise of libertarianism. Cuccinelli is considered by many to be a uniquely awful candidate. Furthermore, the GOP as a party is still struggling to repair its image following the debacle of the government shutdown.

Still, there are signs that this surge of support for Sarvis centers around social issues, given that Cuccinelli's economic views are solidly libertarian. He is fiercely opposed to ObamaCare, and has campaigned on a pledge to cut the state income tax by 15 percent.

Cuccinelli's social positions led Ed Crane, former president of the Cato Institute, to head a PAC that raised $300,000 for Sarvis. “Ken Cuccinelli is a socially intolerant, hard-right conservative with little respect for civil liberties," he told The Washington Examiner.

Cuccinelli is an observant Catholic who not only opposes gay marriage, but sodomy as well. Libertarians, the latest survey found, were far less conservative on that issue than other groups that skew Republican. The same was true for social issues like abortion and the legalization of marijuana.

In other words, the GOP may want to consider toning down its rhetoric on social issues for more than the oft-cited reason of appealing to moderates. A shift may be necessary to keep its already dwindling voting bloc together.

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