John Fund has an interesting look at the impact of libertarianism on American politics. One of the larger factors behind the GOP’s loss in the 2006 elections is the way in which libertarian voters stayed home, disgusted with profligate spending in Congress. While social conservatives get all the press, libertarian-leaning conservatives are also a substantial voting bloc within the GOP, and the Republican Party hasn’t done nearly as well at speaking to their interests.
It seems likely that libertarianism will be a part of American politics for some time, albeit probably not a part of the mainstream. The libertarian tradition does descend directly from the classical liberal traditions of Locke and Mill, and the American experience tends to produce a libertarian outlook in people. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the “closing of the American frontier” (to borrow from Frederick Jackson Turner) happened to preface the rise in American statism under the New Deal. An urban society is more likely to want big government than a rural one, and the American frontier mentality tends to be strongest in the libertarian red states than the statist blue states.
Libertarians are an under-appreciated bloc within American politics, but they have had their impact. Dozens of races were decided based on the libertarian vote, and GOP strategists would be wise to do better in appealing to those for whom smaller government is a key issue — even some on the Left are trying to make appeals to libertarians (albeit with very little success). The future of American politics may swing upon those 10-15% of the electorate who hold libertarian views, even if they don’t identify themselves as libertarians. In an electoral climate where a swing of just a few percentage points can have far-reaching consequences, neither party can afford to ignore the voices of this key electoral minority.