Is America more libertarian today?

The question of the day being posed by Nate Silver focuses on “small L” libertarians, as opposed to the Libertarian party. So… is America beginning to skew more libertarian? He examines the trends in a pair of questions which CNN has been asking in their standard polling for roughly two decades.

Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?

It is an intriguing pairing of questions which strikes right at the heart of contemporary definitions of political ideology in terms of conservatives and liberals. If you comfortably classify yourself as a conservative you are very likely to select the first answer in both questions. Liberals, on the other hand, will tend to pick the second answer in each. But, as Nate points out, it’s the libertarians who tend to split that pair, taking the first answer to the first question and the second choice for the other one.

The CNN poll in question has pegged a new high in libertarian responses, with 63% taking that route in the first question and one half (50%) choosing the second answer to the last question. (Up from 41% in 2008.)

The shift on the first question is easier to understand. When the government goes full bore busybody on us, as we’ve seen particularly these past couple of years, people tend to bristle and push back. But what accounts for the rise in the values question? It almost seems counter-intuitive. Nate attributes it to the rise of the Tea Party, but I’ll let you debate that part with him yourselves.