My latest Learn Liberty blog post is on the topic above and can be found here. Excerpt:

Kant’s moral philosophy justifies extremely strong individual rights against coercion. The only justification for coercion in his philosophy seems to be defense of self or others. His ideal government therefore seems to be extremely limited and to allow for the free play of citizens’ imaginations, enterprise, and experiments in living.

Now that the 2016 election results are available by town for New Hampshire, I thought I would take a look at where libertarian candidates tended to do well or poorly, and how that pattern compared with conservative versus progressive support by town.

To measure libertarian voting by town, I used different variables in different years.

For 2008, I used:

  • Ron Paul vote share in the Republican presidential primary,
  • Libertarian Party vote share in the general presidential election (both Bob Barr and George Phillies had separate Libertarian candidacies in New Hampshire that year),
  • Libertarian Party vote share in the general gubernatorial election.

For 2012, I used:

  • Ron Paul vote share in the Republican presidential primary,
  • Libertarian Party and Ron Paul write-in vote share in the general presidential election,
  • Andrew Hemingway vote share in the Republican gubernatorial primary of 2014. (So this is sort of a 2012-4 measure really.)

For 2016, I used:

  • Rand Paul vote share in the Republican presidential primary (he had dropped out of the race, but over 1% of voters voted for him anyway),
  • Frank Edelblut vote share in the Republican gubernatorial primary,
  • Libertarian Party vote share in the general presidential election,
  • Libertarian Party and Aaron Day vote share in the general U.S. Senate election.

I also calculated conservatism vs. progressivism by town for 2012 and 2016.

For 2012 conservative voting, I used:

  • Republican Party general presidential election vote share,
  • Republican Party general gubernatorial election vote share (2012),
  • Republican Party general gubernatorial election vote share (2014).

For 2016 conservative voting, I used:

  • Republican Party general presidential election vote share,
  • Republican Party and Aaron Day vote share in the general U.S. Senate election,
  • Republican Party general gubernatorial election vote share.

I also looked at how these variables correlated with each other. The strongest correlations I found outside the Republican candidates’ correlations with each other were between LP + Day Senate 2016 vote share and Ron Paul 2012 primary vote share (r=0.51), LP + Day Senate 2016 vote share and Trump vote share (r=0.37), Rand 2016 and Ron 2012 primary vote share (r=0.32), LP + Day Senate 2016 vote share and Edelblut ’16 vote share (r=0.30), Johnson ’12 + Ron Paul write-ins and Ron Paul 2012 primary vote share (r=0.51), Trump vote share and Ron Paul 2012 primary vote share (r=0.45), Paul ’12 and Paul ’08 vote share (r=0.49), Paul ’08 and Hemingway ’14 vote share (r=0.43), and Paul ’12 and Hemingway ’14 vote share (r=0.34). Interestingly, the Johnson-Weld ticket really didn’t correlate with anything else at all, suggesting that most of their voters were simply anti-Clinton and anti-Trump, not libertarian leaners. Most of those voters probably won’t stick around for future Libertarian candidacies unless they don’t have a lot of options.

These correlations also imply that a lot of Ron Paul’s 2012 primary vote came from disaffected, non-conservative, potentially populist or nationalist Republicans. This is consistent with what I reported here on Pileus years ago about how Ron Paul in 2012 added a bunch of anti-establishment, moderate to liberal independents and Republicans to his libertarian base. It also suggests, perhaps, some reason for optimism about the Trump phenomenon. A lot of his voters are simply alienated and not that strongly ideological. If they could vote for both Ron Paul in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016, these people must be ideologically flexible, even if consistently anti-establishment.

So where can you find libertarians, progressives, and conservatives in New Hampshire? These maps tell the tale. (Unincorporated townships and towns with fewer than 100 votes are not mapped.)

nhlib16 nhlib12 nhlib08 nhcon16 nhcon12

Please note that each variable is recentered each year, so that it is impossible to compare towns across years in any absolute sense (“this town is becoming more libertarian” is an inference you absolutely cannot make from these data), though you could make comparisons over time, relative to the average town in New Hampshire (“this town used to be quite a bit more libertarian than other towns, but now it’s only average” is something you could say based on these data). The recentering has to be done because different candidates run and are included in the calculations in different years.

Now then, where are the libertarians? The results aren’t greatly different from those I’ve reported before, with New Hampshire’s most libertarian towns generally lying in the Appalachian mountains and foothills of the western part of the state. However, in 2016 there is a notable change, with the libertarian center of gravity shifting southward to Cheshire and western Hillsborough counties. This surprised me a bit at first, but it makes sense once you consider that conservatarian Republican gubernatorial candidate Frank Edelblut is from western Hillsborough County and absolutely dominated the vote in his hometown and nearby towns, coming close to knocking off then-presumptive nominee Chris Sununu (now governor elect) statewide.

Republicans, meanwhile, are much stronger in the southeastern third of the state than elsewhere in 2012, but in 2016 they had more even support throughout the state, making clear inroads into the relatively deprived North Country. This is consistent with the general shift of the party to the nationalist radical right with accompanying loss of support among upscale groups and growth among the white working class.

Scatter plots make these phenomena clearer (click to expand).

The last scatter plot, in particular, shows that between 2012 and 2016 Republicans lost, relatively to the average town, in upscale towns like Hanover, Bedford, New Castle, Amherst, Hollis, and New London (most of these are strongly Republican towns, but Hanover is the most Democratic town in the state). Meanwhile, Republicans gained in the small towns of the North Country, places like Landaff, Berlin, Northumberland, and Millsfield. Libertarians (not necessarily Libertarian Party, but libertarianish candidates) look to have gained in western Hillsborough County, towns like Greenville, Mason, and New Ipswich (all heavily GOP). Again, this pattern really reflects the strength of Republican Frank Edelblut in his primary.

There’s been some debate about whether independent conservatarian candidate Aaron Day (former chairman of the Free State Project Board of Directors) cost Republican Kelly Ayotte her U.S. Senate seat at this past election. Skeptics point to the fact that Day and Libertarian Brian Chabot between them about equaled Gary Johnson’s vote percentage in the presidential race (Johnson-Weld got 4.2% in New Hampshire, Chabot and Day between them about 4.1%). They say Day merely siphoned off Libertarian voters from Chabot, not Republican voters from Ayotte.

They’re probably wrong. Here’s why.

First, let’s note that Clinton and Trump were the two least popular major-party presidential candidates in the history of polling. In particular, Trump was (and is) by far the least popular presidential candidate (and now, president-elect) that we’ve ever seen. Under those conditions, you expect an outsized third-party vote share in the presidential race. By contrast, Maggie Hassan and Kelly Ayotte, the two U.S. Senate candidates, were reasonably popular – and about equally so. So we should expect a small third-party vote share in the U.S. Senate race. The fact that the third-party vote share in the Senate race equalled that in the presidential race therefore suggests something else is going on – perhaps a particularly strong independent candidacy. Libertarian Chabot got 1.7% of the vote, while independent Day got 2.4% of the vote – so if one of them was the particularly strong candidate, it was Day.

To try to see whether Day was siphoning off Republican or Libertarian votes, I looked at town-by-town results for all 239 New Hampshire jurisdictions with voters in this race. I then looked at how the number of Libertarian and Republican presidential votes by town correlated with Day’s support. The results are in the figure below.

Aaron Day Vote Sources

The coefficient estimate on percentage of the vote for Trump-Pence in a town is 0.05 and is highly statistically significant, as you can see by the tiny confidence interval on the estimate. This estimate means that for every 20 additional Trump-Pence voters in a town, one additional voter cast a vote for Day in the Senate race.

The coefficient estimate on percentage of the vote for Johnson-Weld in a town is 0.08 but not statistically significant. This estimate implies that for every 12 additional Johnson-Weld voters in a town, one additional voter cast a vote for day in the Senate race — but again, we can’t be sure this is really any different from zero.

Day’s vote share was a little more than one-twentieth of the Trump-Pence ticket’s in New Hampshire. In other words, we can be reasonably confident that almost all of Day’s electoral support came from Republicans, not Libertarians.

To verify that Day specifically was the spoiler, not Brian Chabot, we can do the same exercise for Brian Chabot’s vote shares by town. The figure below shows those results.

Brian Chabot Vote Sources

Look at the difference! Chabot pulled overwhelmingly from Johnson-Weld voters. For every four additional Johnson-Weld voters in a town, Chabot got an additional one vote. Meanwhile, Chabot did siphon a few Republicans. For every 80 additional Trump-Pence votes in a town, Chabot got about one vote. Still, these results suggest that over half of Chabot’s support came from Libertarians, not Republicans.

Now, Kelly Ayotte lost by 1,000 votes, just over 0.1 percentage points. My estimates suggest that without Aaron Day in the race, Kelly Ayotte would have won her race by about 15,000 votes, similar to Republican Chris Sununu’s margin of victory in the governor’s race.

Is it possible that without Aaron Day in the race, those 16,000 or so disaffected Republicans would still have voted for some other third-party candidate or a write-in, or just that race blank? Sure, it’s possible. We can’t rule out that possibility because we can’t do an experiment in which we randomly assign some towns’ ballots to have Aaron Day on them and some not to have him on them. But at minimum these results strongly suggest that Kelly Ayotte disaffected a decisive share of Republican voters who went for Trump and Sununu but not for her.

What if we can’t make government smaller?” the Niskanen Center’s Will Wilkinson asks. He says that the evidence, particularly Wagner’s Law, shows that government spending is impervious to political assault, and libertarians should make their peace with big government. Instead, libertarians should focus on reforming regulations to foster competition and the market process.

I have a different read of the evidence from Will’s. At the Learn Liberty blog, I write,

Governments do have a tendency to grow. However, the U.S. has cut government consumption significantly in the past and could do so again. The drivers of welfare spending are the aging of the population and rising health care costs, not political support for new programs.

I support those claims with a series of charts. Check it out!

I’ve started a new blogging gig at Learn Liberty, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies. I’ll be putting links to these posts here. My posts there will have the benefit of an editor, which is probably something I need.

The first is on partisan rationalization and why epistocracy may not save us after all – a suitable topic after this election, no? Here’s the lede:

Highly informed voters are also highly biased. That’s a serious problem for democracy, but also for any other system of political decision-making in big groups.

Two new books, Against Democracy by Georgetown moral philosopher Jason Brennan and Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government by Princeton University political scientist Christopher Achen and Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels, deal intellectual hammer blows to the political system so many of us take for granted: democracy.

On this day, we celebrate other North American states’ following New Hampshire’s lead and declaring independence from the United Kingdom. Contrary to the contrarians, New Hampshire secession from the U.K. was awesome and totally justified for several reasons, to wit:

  1. New Hampshire abolished slavery in its 1785 constitution, 51 years before the U.K. followed suit.
  2. Classical liberals the world over cheered on American independence. Perhaps they knew something today’s gnat-biters do not.
  3. The independent U.S. managed to avoid fighting Napoleon, which it would not have been able to do under the British yoke. That made the Louisiana Purchase possible and avoided most of the devastating economic and social impacts of those lengthy wars.
  4. The U.S. example of successful liberalism continued to inspire European reformers and made 19th-century reforms possible there.
  5. The British Empire did this sort of thing to the Irish shortly after the American War of Independence. Such a nice, sweet, genteel, and cute little monarchy, nay?


On March 15, I had the opportunity to testify at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, chaired by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, on the topic of whether the U.S. government should change its policy toward national self-determination movements. I’m posting here my written testimony (my oral testimony had to be briefer). The conversations with the congressmen were interesting, and I think they revealed something about the foundations of U.S. policy toward such movements. Rep. Weber grilled me a bit about whether countries such as Spain, France, and Italy that prohibit secession in their constitutions should not enforce their constitutions. I responded that these countries should change their constitutions. However, another point I would make now is that the purpose of constitutions is to constrain governments, not citizens. Statutes and administrative regulations constrain citizens, but the constitution in turn restricts the ways in which government can create and implement these rules. So a constitutional prohibition against secession could really be enforced only against government agencies, and a government would be well within its legal rights to allow citizens to pursue secession, even in the face of a constitutional prohibition.


National self-determination movements seek greater self-government for a national minority, typically including the right to vote on forming a new independent state. Recent examples of successful self-determination movements include South Sudan, Kosovo, Montenegro, and East Timor. Ongoing self-determination claims are found in Scotland, Catalonia, the Faroe Islands, Kashmir, Tamil Eelam, Somaliland, Western Sahara, West Papua, Tibet, Mindanao, and many other places. Like other states, the U.S. government faces decisions about whether to recognize declarations of independence, to enter into diplomatic relations with new states, and to engage in diplomacy with other states about self-determination movements within their borders.

In my testimony, I will first describe the current state of self-determination movements around the world, then summarize what scholars have learned about the relationship between self-determination conflicts and violence. I will conclude by assessing the validity of claims advocating the creation of new states or changes to national borders.

The Current State of Self-Determination Movements

Self-determination movements generally take one of two forms: political parties and armed groups. Currently, secessionist political parties that seek at least a vote on independence are found in Belgium (Flanders), Canada (Quebec), Denmark (Faroe Islands and Greenland), Finland (Åland), France (Brittany and Corsica), Germany (Bavaria), Italy (Veneto and Sardinia), Spain (Catalonia, the Baleares, the Basque Country, Navarre, Canary Islands, and Galicia), the UK (Scotland and Wales), and the United States (Alaska and Puerto Rico). In addition, irredentist parties, which seek to move territory from one country to another, are present in the UK (Northern Ireland) and Italy (South Tyrol).

Armed self-determination movements are typically found in the developing world. Figure 1 shows where intrastate armed conflicts on territorial issues (generally, self-determination) occurred during the 2011-2014 period. These conflicts require at least 25 battle deaths in a single year to be counted.

territorial conflicts map

Developing countries usually forbid self-determination movements from organizing as political parties. For instance, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Russia make advocacy for the self-determination of a particular region a criminal offense — an act that would be protected by the First Amendment in the United States.

Western, liberal democracies typically allow secessionist parties to organize and contest elections, but they do not all allow for secession. The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that Quebec secession is negotiable if the province votes by “a clear majority on a clear question” for independence. The United Kingdom negotiated the terms of an independence referendum for Scotland and agreed to be bound by the result. The Danish government concedes a right to independence for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and breakup is routinely discussed as a legal option for Belgium. St. Kitts and Nevis and Liechtenstein have constitutional clauses protecting the right of secession. On the other hand, France, Spain, and Italy all have constitutions explicitly defining their countries as indivisible, thus proscribing secession.

Majority support for independence in a population is rare. As of this writing, in all the high-income democracies of Europe, North America, and the Pacific Rim, there is only one region in which parties clearly favoring short-run independence have won an absolute majority of votes in any recent election: Scotland. Furthermore, in Scotland, many voters voted for the Scottish National Party (SNP) without favoring independence, and support for independence has been below 50 percent in polls since that election, including
the September 18, 2014 referendum itself. Using data from the Minorities at Risk project, I found that as of 2003, 107 ethnonational minorities, 38 percent of the total number in the data set, had a secessionist organization of any size (Sorens 2012, 56). In a recent article, I estimated the percentage of the population supporting independence in every state of India, finding figures no higher than 20 percent anywhere (Sorens 2014, 264).

The Causes of Self-Determination Conflicts

Popular demand for independence comes from a combination of a distinctive cultural identity, territorial coherence, and either political or economic benefits of independence (Sorens 2005; Hale 2008; Sorens 2012). Having just one of these elements is not enough, which is why the vast majority of minority nations around the world do not have any secessionist movement at all.

One worry about allowing secessionist movements is so-called “contagion” across regions or countries, but secessionism does not in fact seem to be contagious across countries, although it does have a tendency to spread within a country (Ayres and Saideman 2000; Sorens 2012), which is why governments often crack down on them (Walter 2006).

At the individual level, there is some evidence that voter support for independence is rational, that is, related in the expected way to the expected benefits of independence (Howe 1998). However, there is a difficult-to-resolve debate about the extent to which independence support is caused by voters’ assessments of the benefits of independence, or if instead independence support causes those estimates of benefits through a process of rationalization (Mendelsohn 2003).

Secessionism is strongly associated with violent conflict (Toft 2003). In general, separatist civil wars last longer than other kinds of wars, implying that the warring parties cannot find negotiated settlements even when the conflicts are stalemated (Fearon 2004; Sorens 2012).

I find that providing a legal path to independence is associated with less ethnonationalist rebellion (Sorens 2012). The United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, and Belgium have had much less secessionist violence than France, Spain, and Italy — and secessionist violence has gone away in Puerto Rico since the U.S. government informally recognized their right to independence. Clauses permitting secession were also crucial to peace agreements ending the conflicts in Northern Ireland, South Sudan, and Bougainville (part of Papua New Guinea). The European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon explicitly recognizes member states’ right to secede from the Union, because no country would want to join a union they could never leave.

Implications for U.S. Policy

A legal path to independence can promote peace by constraining secessionists and central governments to pursue their aims through electoral and legislative means. On the one hand, secessionists have no excuse for resorting to violent tactics; to do so would be to admit failure to persuade a majority of the people they claim to represent, while imposing costs of violence on the very people they purport to represent and from whom they would have to recruit. On the other hand, central governments often cannot commit to respecting
a negotiated regional autonomy compromise without also conceding a right to secede. The South Sudanese and Bougainvillean secessionists would probably not have agreed to a peace deal without a referendum guarantee. These conflicts lasted 22 and nine years, respectively. Authoritarian and especially nationalistic central governments will face both desire and opportunity to renege
on previously negotiated autonomy arrangements; only a right to secede may be sufficient to deter them and thereby induce secessionist rebels to lay down arms in the first place. I also find that central governments permitting a legal path to independence are more likely to decentralize to ethnic minority regions and have never recentralized power in the post-World War II era (Sorens 2012).

If every country recognized its minority nations’ right to secede, only a few would apparently exercise such a right. Moreover, the overall level of global violence would likely decline by replacing intrastate conflicts with interstate conflicts. Intrastate conflicts are far more common than interstate conflicts (see Figure 2). Since World War 2, civil conflicts have killed seven times more people than interstate conflicts (Collier and Sambanis 2005; PRIO n.d.). Civil wars last much longer than interstate wars (Fearon 2004). Civil wars are also more likely to happen in more populous countries (Fearon and Laitin 2003). These findings suggest that a global increase in the number of independent states and a decrease in their average size would decrease the total number of conflict deaths.

conflict types

There are good reasons for the U.S. government to avoid assertively internationalizing other countries’ self-determination conflicts, which can look like meddling in other countries’ internal affairs. The U.S. arguably erred in refusing to negotiate a democratically authorized partition of Kosovo; as a result, an independent Kosovo lacks broad recognition from other states and is having trouble entering international institutions. Nevertheless, once a declaration of independence is issued, the U.S. government has no choice but to respond. In such an event, the U.S. government might wish to consider not only the interests of the host state, but also the interests of the seceding state and the effect of secession on regional stability. On average, replacing a state-to-nation relationship with a state-to-state relationship reduces violence.


Ayres, R. William & Stephen Saideman. 2000. “Is Separatism as Contagious as the Common Cold or as Cancer? Testing the International and DomesticDeterminants of Secessionism.” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 6(3):92–114.
Collier, Paul & Nicholas Sambanis. 2005. Preface. In Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis: Volume 1 (Africa), ed. Paul Collier & Nicholas Sambanis. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.
Data on Armed Conflict. 2013. Peace Research Institute of Oslo. http://www.prio.no/Data/Armed-Conflict/, accessed September 20, 2013.
Fearon, James D. 2004. “Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer than Others?” Journal of Peace Research 41(3):275–301.
Fearon, James D. & David D. Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War.” American Political Science Review 97(1):75–90.
Hale, Henry E. 2008. The Foundations of Ethnic Politics: Separatism of States and Nations in Eurasia and the World. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Howe, Paul. 1998. “Rationality and Sovereignty Support in Quebec.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 31(1):31–59.
Mendelsohn, Matthew. 2003. “Rational Choice and Socio-Psychological Explanations for Opinion on Quebec Sovereignty.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 36(3):511–537.
Sorens, Jason. 2005. “The Cross-Sectional Determinants of Secessionism in Advanced Democracies.” Comparative Political Studies 38(3):304–326.
Sorens, Jason. 2012. Secessionism: Identity, Interest, and Strategy. Montreal, Que.: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Sorens, Jason. 2014. “Legal Regimes for Secession: Applying Moral Theory and Empirical Findings.” Public Affairs Quarterly 28(3):259–288.
Toft, Monica Duffy. 2003. The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Walter, Barbara F. 2006. “Building Reputation: Why Governments Fight Some Separatists but Not Others.” American Journal of Political Science 50(2):313–330.

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