The PJ Tatler

One in Three Adults Think Libertarian Means the Opposite of What Libertarian Means

Pew Research has released numbers today on the topic of libertarians.  The numbers are not current–  the survey was conducted April 29-May 27, 2014 among a panel of 3,243 adults but they provide an insight into an alarming misunderstanding of political ideology.

The survey asked respondents to identify what political ideology fits the following definition: “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government.”

Libertarians topline


Looking just at the first question, which Pew has used to determine whether people who say they are libertarians actually know what the term means, 57% correctly identified the definition of “libertarian” with the proper corresponding ideological label.  Looking at the other answers,  an astonishing 20% say that someone who emphasizes freedom and less government is a progressive, 6% say that is the definition of an authoritarian and 6% say that is the definition of a communist.

The total number of people who say that the emphasis on individual freedom by limiting the role of government with a label that involves more government regulation and greater involvement (which only comes at the expense of individual freedom) is 32% or 1 out of 3 adults.

Some may argue that the definition of a progressive does involve individual freedom and less government interference in life choices. While that might be claimed in theory, it is certainly not the case in practice. Progressives want to use government force to ensure the outcomes they want, be it proper politically correct thought or larger government programs and redistribution of wealth to ensure equal outcomes. Perhaps the 20% who assume progressivism involves more individual freedom with less government involvement aren’t paying close attention to current legislation and restrictions being advocated by self-proclaimed progressives.

Going back to the Pew survey, 14% of adults identify as a libertarian, but only 11% identify as a libertarian and also correctly define the term.  An other interesting finding is that men are twice as likely to identify as libertarian than women: 15% of men compared with 7% of women. Education level also plays a role in identification: adults with at least a college education (15%) are more likely to say they are libertarians than those with some college (12%) or those with less than a high school education (7%).  Most notably, both whites and Hispanics are four times as likely to say they are libertarians than African Americans.