Young people’s attitudes towards the word “libertarian”

Many bloggers commented on last week’s Pew survey that asked whether respondents had positive or negative feelings towards the word “libertarian.” I was curious how this would break by age, and Pew kindly provided us the crosstabs, below:

Two observations. One, young people have more positive feelings towards the word “libertarian” than older Americans and fewer don’t know the word. That’s good news for libertarian brand. But two, young people seem to have more positive feelings about most words, including “progressive,” “civil liberties,” and “family values.” I wonder if young people really know what any of these words mean, or whether this reflects a certain sunny generational optimism? I’d  be interested in your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Anonymous

    And what about Socialism and progressivism? Are they not a distinction without and difference?

  • Steven Horwitz

    Young people are the most positive toward libertarian and the most negative toward capitalism. I think the explanation is that they don't understand one or the other. Or both. Most likely capitalism.

  • danrothschild

    NPR had a story about that question this morning (http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcr…). While they mostly focused on millennials' faith in government, one Tufts researcher pointed out that young people as a whole seem to have greater faith in all institutions than their elders. Having never been through the public delegitimization of a major societal institution, those born after the mid-1970s who came of age in the go-go 1990s seem to have (what I would consider) an unhealthy optimism towards just about everything.

  • brandonadamson

    Most young people have a positive view of Libertarian because they associate it with legalized drugs, prostitution, sexual freedom, and anti law enforcement. They are clueless about the individual economic freedom aspect of it. Most young people I know that would call themselves “libertarians” would be likely to support socialist economic programs, universal health care, racial quotas and the rest.

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    [...] } From NRO's The Corner: The generation gap in political values is stark, according to this Pew poll: A majority of people over 65 have a negative view of socialism and a positive view of [...]

  • Millennial Opinion

    I’m a millennial, and I would probably put myself in both the “faith in govt.” and “libertarian” camps. Libertarianism appeals to me because of the social liberties the movement advocates for – I support same sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana, and oppose legislation like AZ’s illegal immigration enforcement law and certain parts of the Patriot Act (wiretapping of citizens without FISA protections, etc).

    But I’m not so quick to take a “free market knows best” approach when it comes to govt. regulation, and as an IT person I see a lot of potential for the govt. at the local, state, and federal levels to improve its operational efficiency while cutting operating costs through the adoption of open source and consumer-type tools (like Google’s suite of enterprise apps and crowd sourced business intel tools). I’m familiar with folks like Hayek and Friedman – but I think their ideas were shortchanged by the fact that they didn’t come of age in an era where everything is hyperconnected via tech and international financial markets. Greece affects our 401K’s, the CDS meltdown took down our entire economy, etc. The market needs to be managed. Big, complex, dynamic problems require communitarian solutions. Schumpeter was right – the govt. and private sector or going to merge more and more as the world becomes more hyperconnected. Old people don’t understand this as much because they weren’t raised with the internet, web 2.0, etc. They don’t have the benefit of being digital natives.

    I’m hopefully optimistic because I look at demographics, and polls like this, and I realize that most of today’s “libertarians” (old farts who are just GOP die hards embarrassed by Bush – who eschew the social liberty planks of libertarianism while emphasizing the anti-govt. parts) are going to start dropping like flies, and soon we’ll be free of them. We’ll probably have some hiccups along the way and some reversals, but on the whole we’re looking good! I chalk most of the boomers’ and tea partiers’ anger up to confusion. The world and job market have changed, and the pace of change is only going to increase. This puts people who can’t deal with ambiguity and nuance well at a disadvantage. Many of them are hurting – I know quite a few 50+ year olds and people in their 40′s who are out of work. Many of them have old school skill sets, and adapting to change doesn’t come very easily with this group. If you look at unemployment numbers for the college educated, youngish folks are doing much better than the 50+ set. They’re pissed, and so they reaching into their grab bag of experience and running the same old play – today’s anti-govt. talk is just a retread of Reagan era, and then Gingrich era anti-govt talk. Just resentment – buch the group gets smaller every cycle!

  • http://pellucidation.blogspot.com/ Corinna

    I think libertarianism often gets equated with social Darwinism. Add to that a default disposition of trusting the government (absent proof that the trust is unwarranted), and I think that explains a chunk of the negative attitude amongst youth towards libertarianism.

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