Estimating the “Liberty Bloc” in Each State, Part 1

This post is the first part of a Nate Silver-esque miniseries of posts reporting the results of statistical analysis on a macropolitics topic: the size of the “liberty constituency” in each state. Essentially, what I’m trying to estimate here is the relative percentage of the voting population in each state that would consistently prefer libertarian candidates. It’s similar to what David Boaz and David Kirby have done to estimate the “libertarian vote” nationally, but the main differences are that a) I am ranking states, not giving an absolute percentage for the nation as a whole; and b) the numbers are based on actual voting and donation behavior, rather than responses to questions about issue positions.

Readers should be careful not to interpret these results as giving a ranking of the “most libertarian states.” Any such designation would have to be based on an examination of the entire ideological distribution of voters. We cannot assume identical distributions in each state. To take an extreme example, imagine a state composed of 20% hardcore anarcho-capitalists and 80% stark raving Hitler lovers. Would this be a more or less libertarian state than one comprised of 15% moderate libertarians, 15% populists, 35% conservatives, and 35% liberals? Probably less. I’m only measuring the proportions of libertarians in each state.

The three indicators I will use are: vote percentage for libertarian candidates in the 2008 presidential general election (Bob Barr, Ron Paul in Louisiana only (where he was on the ballot), and George Phillies in New Hampshire (where he was on the ballot)); per capita donors to the Ron Paul presidential campaign (from; and “adjusted” percentage vote for Ron Paul in the 2008 presidential primaries. Of course, many if not most libertarians did not vote for or donate to any of these candidates. However, the size of the libertarian constituency in each state should correlate strongly with the percentage of voters that did. That’s all we need to come up with a relative ranking of states on size of libertarian constituency.

The first step I want to take is to adjust Ron Paul’s 2008 primary results for state institutional context. Some states have caucuses or conventions rather than primaries, and of course these elections took place at different points in the electoral cycle. Ron Paul did much better in caucuses and conventions than primaries, because his supporters were particularly motivated compared to the rest of the Republican field. He also did better when turnout was lower. Two states that held conventions, Hawaii and Wyoming, do not have results available. If a state held both caucuses/conventions and a primary, I use the primary results.

I took the log of Ron Paul’s percentage of the vote in each state (plus D.C.) and regressed it on an estimate of turnout (total votes cast divided by population – an ideal denominator would be registered voters, but that would be difficult to acquire for all 50 states, and it should make very little difference to the results), a dummy variable for caucus/convention, a dummy variable for whether the election was held after McCain clinched, and the log of the number of candidates in the race. (Taking the log of the dependent variable is necessary to make it impossible for predicted vote share to fall below zero and to ensure normality. I also tested for heteroskedasticity in this regression and found no evidence of it.) These are the results:

lnrp     |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
turnout  |  -.0070837   .0221658    -0.32   0.751     -.051756    .0375885
caucus   |   1.060498   .1955968     5.42   0.000     .6662991    1.454698
clinched |   .6133622   .1627105     3.77   0.000     .2854407    .9412838
lncand   |  -.2069483   .1333964    -1.55   0.128     -.475791    .0618944
_cons    |   1.999169   .2588205     7.72   0.000     1.477551    2.520788

Controlling for everything else, turnout actually does not predict Ron Paul’s vote share, but the results demonstrate that Paul did much better in caucuses than primaries and after McCain had clinched – and perhaps when the number of candidates on the ballot was smaller, although this result is not quite statistically significant. These last two results suggest that Paul was a protest vote for some people, and/or that some rather pro-Paul voters ended up going for one of the other candidates when it might have made a difference, and an agreeable alternative candidate was in the race (for instance, some libertarians supported Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani).

Now that we have estimated the effects of electoral institutions, we can adjust Ron Paul’s vote shares in each state accordingly and come up with a prediction of just how “pro-Ron Paul” each state was. Let us assume that every state had the exact same electoral institutions: primary not caucus, pre-clinching, with 5 candidates in the race, and a turnout of 6.27%. These are the median values on each variable. An “average” state (right on the regression line) would be predicted to give Ron Paul 5.06% of the vote under these conditions. We can add to this each state’s residual from the regression above (and convert out of logarithms) to get the percentage of the vote that Ron Paul would have won in that state under these conditions.

Here are the results:

State Prediction
New Hampshire 11.19589
Idaho 10.77407
South Dakota 8.623769
Washington 8.184763
District of Columbia 7.824208
Montana 7.780539
Pennsylvania 7.763993
Michigan 7.200534
North Dakota 7.124513
Maine 6.846468
New York 6.721992
Maryland 6.68655
Oregon 6.681799
Vermont 6.418495
Louisiana 6.35258
California 6.294377
Tennessee 6.275179
New Mexico 6.256058
Rhode Island 6.05923
Nebraska 5.881125
Alaska 5.555577
Illinois 5.435824
Missouri 5.199485
Nevada 5.072649
Minnesota 5.00343
Arkansas 4.858305
New Jersey 4.845448
Virginia 4.657678
Wisconsin 4.583703
Texas 4.53022
Ohio 4.441385
Arizona 4.346241
South Carolina 4.294139
Delaware 4.239972
Oklahoma 4.010873
Connecticut 4.000432
Kansas 3.990187
Indiana 3.976637
Iowa 3.830344
Kentucky 3.772909
Florida 3.756037
North Carolina 3.704741
Georgia 3.390078
Utah 3.010131
Massachusetts 2.954111
West Virginia 2.91586
Alabama 2.855571
Colorado 2.666248
Mississippi 1.943739

New Hampshire and Idaho were the most pro-Ron Paul states, while Mississippi was the least. These results give us some insight into the composition of the Republican Party in each state. States with a more “establishment” bent, especially those in the South, gave fewer votes to Ron Paul, while states with more of an anti-Washington bent gave him more votes. Ron Paul’s good score in the District of Columbia helps demonstrate my point about ideological distributions. D.C. is a hostile place to libertarianism overall, but there is a small contingent of very politically aware libertarians there, and they made a noticeable mark on the (tiny) Republican primary there.

Of course, this is just one of three indicators I will use to compile an aggregate measure of size of the liberty constituency in each state. If there are some quirks in these data (I am surprised by how low Colorado scored), they should drop out when combined with other, independent measures of the concept. I will discuss how that can be done in Part 2 of the series.


19 thoughts on “Estimating the “Liberty Bloc” in Each State, Part 1

  1. Jason, this is fascinating. Well done. Two quick thoughts: First, despite your caveat at the beginning, do you take your results to support the Free State Project’s selection of New Hampshire?

    Second, I’d be interested to see to what extent your results here comport with a state-by-state analysis done using the Boaz-Kirby method. For people who are interested not only to describe the state political demographics correctly but also to nudge it in libertarian directions, this might provide good indicators of where one can get the best results for one’s efforts.

  2. I think the results buttress the concept behind the FSP. I am not sure that NH actually has a native libertarian constituency that is much larger than average. Much of NH’s relative freedom, I would suggest, is due to its distinctive institutions. If that is the case, then the FSP has already had a major impact of NH politics, essentially doubling Ron Paul’s vote share in the primary for instance. If that is the right interpretation, the FSP could have done just as well, maybe better, in Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming. But then those states don’t have the advantage of NH’s institutions.

    To do a Boaz-Kirby style analysis state by state, we’d need a consistent issue survey for all 50 states, with sample sizes large enough to make inferences for each state. That would have to be a huge survey, at least 30,000 respondents. Jonathan Rodden is doing something along these lines by using a Bayesian technique I don’t really understand, but those data have not been publicly released yet. He did tell me that NH’s 2nd congressional district was the most economically conservative district in the nation, while being socially moderate. (If you squint, that looks a bit like “libertarian.” Depends on what’s going into the social side.)

  3. You could confidently place Hawaii (MUCH) lower than Mississippi. It is an all-but-completely (Progressive) liberal Democrat state. It’s so bad that many “Republicans” elected to our state legislature before long “become” Democrats — in order to even be heard, much less to get anything actually done.

    It’s been an open secret since her election that our “Republican” governor is really a Democrat, but labeling her as Republican is useful to the Democrats to appear to be trying to do good “for the people,” and to those who will not to see, serves to give the appearance of the existence of two parties here.

    The GOP that does barely exist here is radically GOP; not interested in true libertarian principles, only in vying with the establishment for credit for policies.

    We are not allowed to write in candidates for President; the only libertarian choice for the 2008 presidential election we had outside of the major two parties was Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party.

    It is no surprise to any of us liberty-lovers here that Hawaii will not release the results of its convention. But realistically looking at the political demographics here, which are not hidden, should yield the solid probability that there is little of a libertarian voice here (fact) and justifies Hawaii being included in your list, to the far south of Mississippi.

    One recent ray of hope: Republican Charles Djou was elected in a special election to replace long-time senior Congressman Neil Abercrombie, who resigned his U.S. House seat to run for governor. All bets are off whether Djou will retain that seat in November; the Dems have ramped up their visibility, and here, usually get what they want.

    The Djou election you could say was a win by default — which is exactly how the Dems are characterizing it — because the Dem Party vote was split between two candidates not exactly universally loved, but one enjoying the embrace and endorsement of senior U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, the other the object of the esteemed senator’s abject disdain, if not outright hatred. All because the other dared to run against Sen. Inouye’s pal, Senator Daniel Akaka, in the last senatorial race here.

    The other has withdrawn from the upcoming November race to ensure Sen. Inouye’s choice is elected.

    And so it will be done.

    But . . . you never know. I do seem to see a welcome glimmer of a burgeoning presence of more not-GOP libertarians, at least in letters to the editor and the online comments pages.

    But in time to carry November?

  4. Cathy – Thanks for your insights. You might want to check out part 2 of my series. I find that Hawaii is the fourth-most liberal state in the country (no surprise to you I’m sure), but actually about average on number of libertarians. According to Dave Leip’s atlas, LP candidate Bob Barr was on the ballot in Hawaii, where he got 0.29% of the vote (worse than average). But Ron Paul per capita donations in Hawaii were pretty high.

  5. Dr. Sorens,

    I have a vested interest in my home state of Iowa as you do in New Hampshire, so take what I say with the grain of salt.

    That said, I believe categorizing Iowa as below the average in support for Ron Paul in particular and his ideas in general is off the mark. While our nearly 10% was no doubt driven up by the fact that we have a caucus rather than a primary, I’m not sure that you are giving enough weight to the relative numbers of competing candidates. While other states might technically have faced a similarly large field, none but New Hampshire and perhaps South Carolina faced the amount of effort put into the race by statists of both parties. And I mean “both parties” as I believe Dr. Paul drew just as much from previously apathetic “change” votes as Mr. Obama did, but that’s only on anecdotal evidence. Against these efforts, because Dr. Paul ran a nationwide education campaign, he visited only 9 days, sometimes very briefly which is normally unacceptable in a state that demands extensive retail politics during its caucus process.

    Furthermore, the ongoing successes for Campaign for Liberty within Iowa would seem to argue against the idea that we’re below average. For many months after the organization’s founding we led the nation on a per capita basis in recruitment of members and local leaders. Four of our members are now on the Republican State Central Committee, who combined with the recent new membership of an incumbent SCC member who saw the winds blowing and joined CFL, give Ron Paul supporters a bloc of 29% of that body. I’d say that’s above the average of most states.

    But again, I’m a Iowan, so I’m rooting for the home team. Just don’t get me started on college football. . .

  6. Interesting info on Iowa, Steve. There are certainly idiosyncratic factors in each state that may cause them to be under- or over-estimated. If Campaign for Liberty membership stats are available by state, that might be another indicator I could include in estimating size of liberty constituency.

  7. I was the campaign’s district coordinator for dc. I would add that due to DC’s small geographic area, a small team of about 10 supporters were able to canvass NW DC by handing out slimjims and knocking on doors talking him up. The general consensus was that RP was a great man but simply couldn’t win and why many voters went with McCain. If Ron were to run again and receive positive media coverage (i.e. if they lost the use of “long-shot” or “darkhorse” I suspect Ron would win DCs primary. Of course, no GOP has a chance at grabbing the general but if there is two primaries he could win, it would be NH and DC. I have concerns about the IOWA caucus, which is important…why so low there?

  8. Dr. Sorens,

    I don’t know how much you have to go back and change your figures, I just wanted you and others to know that the situation in our state is better than reported. How you campaign in the Iowa caucus is just as important as the ideas you promote. Much like in New Hampshire, people just expect that presidential candidates will come to their home town and their little festival. As I mentioned, Dr. Paul was here only 9 times and many of those just to drop in, hold a press conference at the airport, and fly back out. If he had gotten out and pressed the flesh, we might have come 3rd. When he was here 2 weeks ago to speak, some of the people in the room didn’t even know he was a doctor, all they knew of him was that Fox had said he was bad, so they hated him.

    I’ve always estimated our freedom vote at 10,000-15,000 based on fairly consistent raw vote totals achieved by both Ron Paul and strong Libertarian/Constitution Party candidates. I suspect that is growing rapidly with the tea party movement. We ran a Ron Paul Republican candidate for Congress who got triple the votes in the district that Dr. Paul did in 2008, most of that attributable to his connections with the tea parties. Our numbers go up even more if you were to count paleoconservatives, as Pat Buchanan did quite well here. Outside of a few pockets around university campuses and the idiosyncratic Fairfield, the right-libertarian alliance does much better than a left-libertarian approach.

    @ the other Steve – see both of my posts as to Iowa’s total.

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