Reason poll: Young libertarians favored Obama over Romney by 10 points

Some conservatives I know think libertarianism is less a serious ideological commitment than an affectation of certain social liberals who relish the idea of political independence. Why be something as banal as a Democrat when you can embrace Democratic social policies while leveraging the romantic intellectual outsider libertarian brand instead?

This won’t change their minds, I’m thinking:

Obvious caveat here: The voters described as “libertarian” didn’t self-identify that way. They’re presumptive libertarians based on the fact that they prefer small government and legal weed — not a bad rough gauge of political sympathies, but surely not foolproof. Case in point, if you’re all about legalizing pot, why on earth would you vote for a notorious marijuana hawk like Obama? On the other hand, marijuana legalization does seem to correlate with certain other socially liberal policies, so this may be based on more than just weed. Anyway, good enough for Reason, good enough for me.

The excuse for the result here, I take it, will be the old chestnut that there’s no meaningful difference between the parties and therefore, if you’re forced to choose, you might as well vote for the unabashed statist over the sheepish one. But they didn’t have to choose. Gary Johnson, a prominent, authentic libertarian, was on the ballot in most states and available as a protest vote. Failing that, they could have written in Ron or Rand Paul. If they voted for O, it’s likely because they prioritized social issues over fiscal ones, which is insane given the magnitude of the debt crisis we face but possibly a political fact of life when it comes to young voters of all stripes. And no, it’s no answer to say that Romney and Ryan wouldn’t have been the budget-slashing heroes that Pauls pere and fils are. Read this smart Ted Frank piece from October to see why. As devastating as Roberts’s ObamaCare decision was, the fact remains that five Republican Supreme Court justices agreed that the mandate exceeded the limits of the Commerce Clause. You’ll never, ever get a ruling like that from a Democratic appointee, and if you’re a libertarian, that should matter — maybe not so much to get you to cast a vote for Mitt but certainly enough to not get you to cast a vote for O. Same with foreign policy. Romney’s a lot more hawkish than the average libertarian can stomach, but then Romney’s not the guy who ordered military action in Libya and drone strikes across the world without so much as a nod at congressional approval. Again, all of this counsels either staying home or voting Johnson, not voting O.

For all the heavy breathing about the parties being indistinguishable, you’d be more likely to have serious entitlement reform passed and signed into law by Romney and a Republican Congress than you would with O wielding a veto pen and Harry Reid gumming things up in the Senate. If young libertarians didn’t care about that, it has to be because they voted for social issues rather than fiscal ones, which I suspect means gay marriage and maybe abortion more so than legalizing weed. Oh well. Enjoy the tax hikes.