Archive for the ‘Public Opinion’ Category

In 2010 and 2015, I did some data analysis to see which states had the most libertarians, based on Libertarian Party and Ron Paul election results. I’ve now done something similar for 2016.

Unfortunately, in 2016 we didn’t have a libertarianish Republican presidential candidate continue through every primary, and so we can’t use primary election results. However, Rand Paul did run for several months and collected campaign contributions, which we can use. In addition, we can use votes and campaign contributions for the Johnson-Weld campaign to try to see where the libertarians are.

The best way to do this would undoubtedly be to do issue surveys of enough voters in every state that we could estimate the percentage of voters in every state that take libertarian policy positions. But we just don’t have big enough sample sizes at the state level to do this right now. There are experimental, new methods that let us estimate issue positions at the state level with smaller sample sizes, but these methods are extremely time-intensive, and in any case we still don’t have consistent questions over time that would let us develop measures comparable over time.

There’s no one “right” way to do this, but here’s what I did – and all reasonable methods seem to yield similar results. I:

  1. took each state’s percentage of the vote for Johnson-Weld, campaign contributions to Johnson-Weld per capita, and campaign contributions to Rand Paul per capita;
  2. substituted national average values for home states (New Mexico and Massachusetts for Johnson-Weld, Kentucky for Paul);
  3. standardized the three variables to have the same mean and variance; and then
  4. averaged them together.

Substituting national average values for the home states seemed justified because these home states would otherwise be near the top of the rankings, even though none of these states seemed particularly libertarian in other elections when these candidates weren’t running. New Mexico was a below-average Libertarian state before Gary Johnson started running, Kentucky was a mediocre state for Ron Paul contributions in 2008 and 2012, and so on.

Without further ado, here is the ranking of states (and D.C.) by libertarians per capita in 2016, as best we can tell from these three measures:

state lp16_s john_s rand_s libertarians16
District of Columbia -0.2273757 5.063998 5.91443 3.583684
Wyoming 1.34241 0.7520453 2.782263 1.625573
Alaska 1.92475 0.8954656 0.3591455 1.059787
New Hampshire 0.4562405 1.881349 0.7760671 1.037885
Colorado 1.33397 1.46498 -0.1094947 0.8964849
Nevada -0.2358154 1.115038 1.282813 0.7206786
Washington 1.05546 1.029371 -0.0169397 0.6892969
Hawaii 0.1017729 1.514048 -0.1154285 0.5001307
North Dakota 2.211699 -0.9076071 -0.1790468 0.3750151
Oklahoma 1.815033 -0.6429195 -0.1350837 0.3456767
Idaho 0.4224817 0.1906986 0.2989358 0.3040387
Montana 1.679998 -0.4868041 -0.321723 0.2904903
Arizona 0.4056023 0.1295627 0.0997089 0.2116246
South Dakota 1.713757 -0.8959171 -0.3943799 0.1411533
Maine 1.258013 -0.5925905 -0.2984428 0.1223265
Oregon 0.9373039 -0.3396169 -0.2768817 0.1069351
Virginia -0.531205 0.7552064 -0.0225921 0.0671364
Connecticut -0.5396447 0.9314943 -0.1919439 0.0666352
New Mexico 0.1017729 0.1134186 -0.081947 0.0444149
Vermont -0.3370917 0.315843 0.0580951 0.0122821
Nebraska 0.8529069 -0.4625284 -0.3718339 0.0061815
Indiana 1.0639 -0.6398522 -0.4644283 -0.0134603
California -0.2020566 0.1975027 -0.069957 -0.024837
Texas -0.3708505 0.0970403 0.1393362 -0.0448247
Kansas 0.8782258 -0.57144 -0.4413628 -0.044859
Minnesota 0.2030493 -0.1859483 -0.2730781 -0.0853257
Massachusetts 0.1017729 0.0265284 -0.3852127 -0.0856371
Utah -0.1176594 -0.040376 -0.111288 -0.0897745
Iowa 0.1524111 -0.5752427 0.1136567 -0.1030583
Illinois 0.127092 -0.2596285 -0.2625065 -0.131681
Michigan -0.0248227 -0.3442523 -0.0487973 -0.1392908
Missouri -0.1345388 -0.5485766 -0.190781 -0.2912988
Maryland -0.6240419 0.1328795 -0.4675777 -0.31958
Georgia -0.4805668 -0.1231457 -0.4113307 -0.3383478
Tennessee -0.6662404 -0.2489252 -0.1508911 -0.3553522
Wisconsin -0.016383 -0.6375318 -0.4363715 -0.3634288
Florida -1.197942 0.0469722 -0.0559043 -0.4022913
New York -1.105105 0.1764863 -0.3696713 -0.4327633
Kentucky -0.6831198 -0.6866438 0.0554005 -0.438121
North Carolina -0.7253183 -0.3510917 -0.4069826 -0.4944642
Ohio -0.3792903 -0.6159415 -0.5193276 -0.5048531
South Carolina -1.062907 -0.3300098 -0.2762537 -0.55639
West Virginia -0.3455315 -0.9457347 -0.4400242 -0.5770968
Pennsylvania -1.029148 -0.4462026 -0.4482422 -0.6411975
Rhode Island -0.3539712 -0.8717933 -0.7971447 -0.6743031
Arkansas -0.8097153 -0.6793436 -0.6667849 -0.7186146
New Jersey -1.468012 -0.3178977 -0.4170856 -0.7343319
Alabama -1.273899 -0.6585236 -0.4357239 -0.7893822
Louisiana -1.459573 -0.6117339 -0.3441515 -0.8051527
Delaware -1.704324 -0.7962323 -0.2577564 -0.9194376
Mississippi -2.033473 -1.015875 -0.2154772 -1.088275

The “lp16_s” column is the standardized value of Johnson-Weld percentage of the vote, “john_s” is the standardized value of Johnson-Weld campaign donations per person, and “rand_s” is the standardized value of Rand Paul contributions per person. D.C. is the “state” with the most libertarians due to its huge campaign contributions to these two candidates, even though the Libertarian ticket did worse than average there in the actual election. Wyoming comes next. It looks pretty libertarian across the board but was especially supportive of Rand. Alaska is third; it was a great state for the Johnson-Weld ticket. New Hampshire came fourth and was above average on all three measures.

I also looked into the possibility that Johnson-Weld did worse in swing states because of tactical voting, but I could find no evidence for this hypothesis. States where the polls were close did not show lower third-party support, surprisingly.

These results are pretty similar to those from previous years, except that I hadn’t looked at D.C. before. It’s not surprising that D.C. would score so highly on campaign contributions, because lots of people there are really interested in politics. Maybe I should have used campaign contributions to each candidate as a share of all campaign contributions, rather than per capita, but I’m unpersuaded that this would be the right way to go. D.C. really may have lots of libertarians – who are nevertheless swamped by those of other ideologies. Wyoming does a lot better than in previous years, and Montana significantly worse. Alaska has always been near the top in these numbers. New Hampshire hasn’t separated itself from the pack despite the Free State Project. It was the best state other than D.C., New Mexico, and Massachusetts for Johnson-Weld campaign contributions, but it was only moderately above average for Johnson-Weld votes and Rand Paul campaign contributions.

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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.

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A few years ago, I did a statistical analysis of which states had the most libertarians, using data from 2004 and 2008 Libertarian Party vote shares and 2008 Ron Paul vote shares and contributions. David Boaz has prodded me to update these numbers in light of the 2012 election. This post does just that.

To come up with a single, valid indicator of how many libertarians are in each state, I use a technique called principal component analysis (PCA), which extracts the vector of data that best explains the correlations among multiple variables. Say I have a number of different measures of the number of libertarians by state. Using PCA, I can convert those different measures into a single measure. A crude way of doing this would be to simply standardize and average all of the different variables, but that method assumes that each variable is an equally reliable measure of the underlying concept. PCA actually tells us which variables are most reliable measures and weights them more heavily.

To see which states have the most libertarians, I use six measures: Libertarian Party presidential vote share in 2008 and 2012, Ron Paul contributions as a share of personal income in 2007-8, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson contributions as a share of income in 2011-12, and “adjusted” Ron Paul primary vote share in 2008 and 2012. Ron Paul vote shares are adjusted for primary vs. caucus, calendar, number of other candidates, and the like (for details see this post). Hawaii and Wyoming are excluded because they did not collect vote shares in the 2008 presidential primary. D.C. is included.

Here are the results of the PCA on these six variables:

. pca resid12 resid08 lp12 lp08 rpcpi08 libcpi12

Principal components/correlation Number of obs = 49
Number of comp. = 6
Trace = 6
Rotation: (unrotated = principal) Rho = 1.0000

Component | Eigenvalue Difference Proportion Cumulative
Comp1 | 2.81582 1.49201 0.4693 0.4693
Comp2 | 1.32382 .517957 0.2206 0.6899
Comp3 | .805859 .266932 0.1343 0.8242
Comp4 | .538928 .0754767 0.0898 0.9141
Comp5 | .463451 .411326 0.0772 0.9913
Comp6 | .0521252 . 0.0087 1.0000

Principal components (eigenvectors)

Variable | Comp1 Comp2 Comp3 Comp4 Comp5 Comp6 | Unexplained
resid12 | 0.1159 0.7527 0.1699 0.3288 0.5308 -0.0354 | 0
resid08 | 0.3400 0.5441 0.1240 -0.3297 -0.6750 0.0934 | 0
lp12 | 0.4360 -0.1868 0.3962 -0.6239 0.4133 -0.2408 | 0
lp08 | 0.3628 -0.3001 0.6360 0.5552 -0.1895 0.1724 | 0
rpcpi08 | 0.5218 -0.0665 -0.4366 0.2925 -0.1052 -0.6604 | 0
libcpi12 | 0.5263 -0.0897 -0.4513 -0.0152 0.2117 0.6828 | 0

“Resid*” is adjusted Ron Paul vote share, “lp*” is LP vote share, and the last two variables are contributions as a share of personal income. What this output tells us is that one single component has lots of explanatory power for the correlations among these six variables: we can interpret this component as the number of libertarians in a state. The method doesn’t give us a number interpretable as an absolute count of libertarians, but a number that we can interpret as representing how many libertarians each state has compared to all the others.

The second table of output shows how each variable contributes to each component. To the first extracted component, the one of interest to us here, the contributions variables actually contribute the most, while adjusted Ron Paul vote shares, especially in 2012, contribute the least. I have found elsewhere that in 2012 Paul did really well in states with lots of liberal voters, as he expanded his base beyond libertarians to antiestablishment liberals and moderates. As a result, his cross-state performance in 2012 isn’t actually a good measure of how libertarian each state is. Still, it contributes a little something to our measure.

Here is the extracted component, with all the states ranked from most to least libertarian:

state libertarians
Montana 5.504036
New Hampshire 4.163368
Alaska 3.586032
New Mexico 3.319092
Idaho 2.842685
Nevada 2.477748
Texas 1.632528
Washington 1.568113
Oregon 1.180586
Arizona 1.0411
North Dakota 0.7316829
Indiana 0.6056806
California 0.5187439
Vermont 0.4731389
Utah 0.2056809
Colorado 0.1532149
Kansas 0.107657
South Dakota 0.0328709
Maine -0.0850015
Pennsylvania -0.2063729
Iowa -0.3226413
Georgia -0.3296589
Virginia -0.3893113
Maryland -0.4288172
Rhode Island -0.470931
Tennessee -0.4882021
Missouri -0.4912609
Arkansas -0.5384682
Louisiana -0.5897537
Nebraska -0.6350928
Minnesota -0.7662109
Michigan -0.7671053
North Carolina -0.811959
South Carolina -0.8196676
Illinois -0.9103957
Ohio -0.9599612
Delaware -1.057948
Florida -1.072601
District of Columbia -1.091851
New York -1.225912
Kentucky -1.330388
Massachusetts -1.342607
Wisconsin -1.410286
New Jersey -1.431843
Connecticut -1.606663
Alabama -1.863769
Oklahoma -1.93511
West Virginia -2.244921
Mississippi -2.519249

Mississippi and West Virginia have the fewest libertarians, while Montana and New Hampshire have the most. Note that Montana and New Mexico will be overstated on this measure, because I have added half of the Montana Constitution Party’s vote share to the Libertarian Party vote share in 2008, because they listed Ron Paul on their general election ballot. No other state had the opportunity to run Ron Paul in the general election, however, so this choice overstates how many libertarian voters are in Montana. But excluding Ron Paul from Montana’s vote share would hurt them because he presumably drew lots of votes away from Bob Barr, the LP candidate, in that state. If I do exclude Ron Paul’s votes entirely from Montana 2008, then New Hampshire ends up just pipping them for most libertarian state. New Mexico is overstated because it is Gary Johnson’s home state, who did very well there both on contributions and on vote share.

These results are quite similar to those I found back in 2010, perhaps unsurprisingly since I included 2008 data on both occasions. Still, there are some small differences. New Hampshire has now easily passed Alaska for the #2 spot. Vermont, Maine, Kentucky, and Texas have gained, while Michigan, Idaho, Indiana, and Georgia have fallen.

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Dragnet’s Joe Friday may have never uttered those words, but he would be impressed nonetheless by the facts on crime. There was a fascinating piece by Erik Eckholm in yesterday’s New York Times on the Drop-in-crimedramatic reductions in crime over the past several decades. Overall, crime peaked in 1991 and has fallen steadily since then.


All of this leads to the big question: why? Is it a change in tactics (e.g., aggressive policing, the “broken window” theory)? Is it a product of an increase in the costs of criminality (e.g., mandatory sentencing and the decision to keep 1.5 million people in prison)? Is it a product of good economic times? Perhaps it simply reflects demographics (e.g., the aging of the population, the decline in teenage pregnancy)? In the end, law professor Franklin E. Zimring (UC-Berkeley) is quoted as describing the search for an explanation as “criminological astrology.”


Max Ehrenfreund (Washington Post Wonkblog) has designated the above “chart of the day” as “something of a Rorschach test. Everyone sees what they want to see in it.” That may be something of an overstatement. Certainly, the advocates of the war on drugs, police militarization, aggressive policing and harsh sentencing laws will view it as evidence that their strategies have worked. They will have the challenge of explaining why similar trends are evident elsewhere, including Canada, that have not embraced the US model. And I am not at all certain of how the Left would make sense of the fact that crime has fallen as inequality has increased.

Will the decline in crime have an impact on public policy? Will it lead to a rethinking of police militarization and mass incarceration? I hold little hope given that public opinion seems immune to the facts.



Even if crime has fallen dramatically, according to Gallup the majority of Americans in most years on record believe that crime is getting worse. As Gallup observes: “federal crime statistics have not been highly relevant to the public’s crime perceptions in recent years.” A public concerned with crime and (willfully) ignorant of the long-term trends will continue to demand an aggressive police presence. And that demand will be met.

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The Cato Institute has conducted a new poll of Americans’ attitudes toward federalism. Apparently Americans have become much more favorable to federalism and decentralization over the past 40 years.

The Cato Institute commissioned YouGov for the poll. They asked respondents questions about which level of government should have primary control over each issue area, using the exact same wording from a Harris poll conducted in 1973. This method allowed them to see how Americans’ attitudes have evolved over the past 40 years. On 10 out of 11 issues, Americans were more favorable to state or local control in 2013 than they had been in 1973 (the bars in this graph represent the percentage of Americans favoring primarily federal control over that issue):

cato poll

A majority of Americans still want primarily federal decision-making over national defense, Social Security, and cancer research. Two of those three seem to make a great deal of sense: cancer research is a global collective good, and national defense, by definition, is a national collective good. “Prison reform” and “drug reform” are the two issues on which Americans’ attitudes have moved most significantly toward decentralization. A large majority of Americans now think housing, transportation, education, welfare, prison reform, health insurance, and drug reform, in that order, should be primarily state and local issues. Only on education have Americans become more centralist, and that change is so small as to lie within the margin of error.

Another compilation of surveys suggests that a majority of Americans also want primarily federal decision-making over immigration, stem-cell research legality, protecting the border, protecting civil rights, protecting civil liberties, abortion laws, creationism in public schools, and food safety, in descending order. Most Americans also think paving roads, providing job training, law enforcement, running courts, providing pre-K to low-income children, unemployment, gay marriage, and gun control should be primarily state and local issues.

These results are consistent with those of other surveys, which have tested Americans’ views on particular issues. A 2012 CBS News poll found that 69% of Americans preferred that the states handle marijuana policy, while only 27% preferred that the federal government handle it.

What’s interesting is that on all these issues on which the study reports a partisan breakdown, even drug laws, Democrats are more in favor of federal control than are Republicans. Decentralization has emerged as a very starkly partisan wedge issue.

Growing support for decentralization in the U.S. does not necessarily mean that decentralization is a good idea or that it will happen, of course. As my review of Daniel Treisman’s recent book acknowledges, decentralization can have its pitfalls. Yet within the American context of largely market-preserving federalism, greater decentralization on many of these issues will (more…)

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Vox Populi

This week we celebrated Constitution Day, by among other things, watching Congress authorize funding for a war that is not a war, and allowing it to be waged on the basis of a 2001 use-of-force resolution that authorized military actions against parties involved with the 9/11 attacks (conveniently, it did not have an expiration date).

Every year, it seems, there are poll results released on Constitution Day that suggest that the majority may not even know that a constitution exists (or if it does, what it might say). A survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that:

While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one.

With respect to the Congress—which, we are told repeatedly, is held in remarkably low esteem by the public:

Asked which party has the most members in the House of Representatives, 38 percent said they knew the Republicans are the majority, but 17 percent responded the Democrats, and 44 percent reported that they did not know (up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).

Asked which party controls the Senate, 38 percent correctly said the Democrats, 20 percent said the Republicans, and 42 percent said they did not know (also up from 27 percent who said they did not know in 2011).


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I always find polls to be interesting. In my mind, one of the more fascinating things is when there is a large disjunction between individuals’ assessment of X (e.g., the environment, crime, education, the economy) as they experience it and their assessment of X as the nation experiences it. I often attribute the differences to the simple fact that the latter question is strongly influenced by the way in which X is portrayed by the media and political elites. One might be satisfied with the environment as one experiences it at home, for example, but the media provides heavy coverage of environmental catastrophes, oil and chemical spills, etc.

In the latest NBC/WSJ Poll (results here), 61 percent report being very/somewhat satisfied when asked to assess their “own financial situation today.” At the same time, when asked “how satisfied are you with the state of the U.S. economy today?,” only 28 percent say they are very/somewhat satisfied. 71 percent claim to be dissatisfied (37 percent somewhat dissatisfied, 34 percent very dissatisfied).

Another question: how well is the economy working for different types of people? Fully 81 percent believe it is working very/fairly well for the wealthy whereas only 22 percent believe it is working very/fairly well for the middle class. There is an obvious tension here, given that “middle class” is the modal category and a majority (71 percent) is very/somewhat satisfied with the economy as they experience it. Similar to the earlier example of the environment, one might hypothesize that the disjunction is a product of the way in which the economy is portrayed in the media and by political elites. (more…)

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