In the third and final installment of this series (part 1 here, part 2 here), I investigate the truth of that hackneyed Margaret Mead quotation, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Is that really true when it comes to libertarians? To recap, in parts 1 and 2 of this series, I investigated whether votes for Ron Paul, per capita donations to Ron Paul, Libertarian presidential votes in 1996-2004, and Libertarian presidential votes in 2008 all correlate together at the state level. If they do consistently track together across the states, that fact implies that there is some underlying factor explaining all of them. It turns out that they do correlate together rather strongly, and I interpret the extracted common factor as the size of the liberty bloc in each state. So the question is – does this liberty bloc have any real influence on politics, or does its minority status doom it to irrelevance?
To test the political influence of libertarians, I model state respect for individual freedom as a function of libertarian constituency, liberal constituency, political institutions, and some demographic controls. In short, I’m trying to find out whether states with more libertarians are freer. The standard and most plausible way to interpret a correlation between state ideology and policy is causal: libertarians influence the political process in their states. It is also possible that libertarians tend to move to states that are freer to begin with, but most of us are not that footloose. Many of us end up stuck in places like New York. (Cough.)
The dependent variable in this regression model is state-level freedom, including both economic and personal freedom, as measured by the “Ruger-Sorens Index” (RSI) in our study “Freedom in the 50 States.” However, I’m going to use the latest and greatest data that haven’t been published yet (next version of the study coming out in January). This is the regression equation:
“Unionization” is the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining contracts in 1977 (I chose an early year because freedom can have reciprocal effects on unionization), “PctBlack” is the percentage of the state population that is black (the reason for including this variable is to capture well-known “racial threat” dynamics, whereby whites in states that have larger black populations are more racist), and “LegProf” is legislative professionalism, a technical term for how similar a state legislature is to Congress in terms of salary, staff, and session length. I expect states with more union members and racists to be less free, and states with well-paid legislators, large legislative staffs, and long sessions to be less free. Both the “liberal” and “libertarian” variables (defined in part 2 of this series) have been rescaled from 0 to 1.
Here are the results:
Regression with robust standard errors Number of obs = 50
F( 6, 43) = 23.16
Prob > F = 0.0000
R-squared = 0.7344
Root MSE = .11918
freedom | Coef. Std. Err. t P>|t| [95% Conf. Interval]
libertarian | .1731908 .0760284 2.28 0.028 .0198649 .3265167
liberal | .5440847 .2185759 2.49 0.017 .1032845 .9848849
liberalsq | -.8819435 .1994393 -4.42 0.000 -1.284151 -.4797358
union77 | -.010695 .0028045 -3.81 0.000 -.0163508 -.0050391
estbkpct | -.0055999 .0019713 -2.84 0.007 -.0095754 -.0016244
legprof | -.37702 .1805852 -2.09 0.043 -.7412048 -.0128351
_cons | .9625205 .0842816 11.42 0.000 .7925504 1.132491
All my hypotheses are confirmed, and most interestingly, we see that states with more libertarians are freer. The effect of liberalism on freedom is less clear from a quick look at the table, so a plot will be more effective. Here is how liberalism affects freedom, when all other variables are set to their means:
So a little bit of liberalism might help, but a lot really hurts. Incidentally, I also tried including urbanization rate and percentage religious/Christian/evangelical, but none of those variables had any effect on freedom. The common perception among libertarians that more urbanized areas are less free is simply not true, once you control for things like unionization and liberal ideology.
To conclude, then, libertarians do make a difference, though not as much as liberals and conservatives make. If Idaho had only as many libertarians as Illinois, it would no longer be the fifth-freest state in the country; instead, it would be only about as free as Florida, Iowa, or North Dakota, slotting in at #11. If it had only as many libertarians as the least libertarian state, Mississippi, Idaho would be very close to Utah, around #20.