Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Libertarian Vote

There has been much talk about the upcoming election, it's supposed to be 'the most interesting' in a very long time indeed. In light of all this excitement, it's perhaps fitting that we in the Libertarian movement indulge in some psephological acrobatics ourselves, and thanks to polling organisations this is possible. I have attempted to assess what may be described as the potential 'Libertarian vote'.  If there were to be a Libertarian party, how much support might it perhaps receive, and from where? Here are my observations. 

Before I begin, I should probably say a few words about my methodology. I have relied on a sample of around 100 constituencies across England because I couldn't possibly assess all them  on my own, this would have been prohibitively time-consuming. To calculate a constituency's receptiveness to Libertarian values, I have mostly relied on YouGov's 'election centre'. I have taken into account the 'role of the state' ( the less the better) and measured it against the 'Libertarianness' (the more the better) of the area. It is important to mention here that YouGov almost certainly uses the term Libertarian in a social context, and not an economic or political sense. That much was obvious from trawling through the large number of constituencies I analysed to create this article. There will inevitably be those who disagree with the methods I have used to calculate the 'Libertarianness' of certain areas, and I fully welcome these criticisms. Any steps to improve my calculations can only benefit the movement as a whole. 

Selected Constituencies: 
  • Putney
  • Hammersmith
  • Wimbledon
  • Bristol West
  • Surrey Heath
  • Warwick and Leamington
  • Northampton North
  • Worcester
  • Guildford
  • Canterbury
  • North Cornwall
  • Kingston and Surbiton

So what do these areas have in common? The first thing I will say is that none of these areas are solidly Labour territory, no surprise there then. Even in areas where a Labour victory is likely in Hammersmith and Bristol West, it is set to be a tight race. However, apart from Surrey Heath, Canterbury and Guildford none of these constituencies are particularly safe seats for any party. 

Taken at face value they don't have much in common. Bristol West is quite far to the left  on all issues and Surrey Heath is firmly cemented on the right. However, Bristol West is more liberal regarding the 'size of the state' than other issues such as nationalism and education as well as having a very strong social Libertarian impulse. For this reason, I have decided to include it in my shortlist. In stark contrast, Surrey Heath is very supportive of a smaller state, much more so than other areas in the UK, and has only a 'small' authoritarian streak. So for different reasons, I have decided to include them in my analysis. 

In general, these constituents tend to be young, southern and living in rented accommodation. Only in Surrey Heath and North Cornwall are the majority older homeowners, and this was a small majority. It may also be useful to point out that these are all 'middle England' areas. None are particularly poor or overly affluent. Perhaps putting to bed the idea that Libertarianism is an ideology exclusively for rich bankers and CEO's. Areas where the very wealthy live like Chelsea and Fulham, seem to have more authoritarian impulses. Money woes are a big issue for these potentially Libertarian seats, fitting then, that Libertarian Home held a 'cost of living crisis' seminar last year. 

Another myth we can dispel by looking at polling data is that Libertarians are at home deep in the countryside, far away from civilisation. The constituencies I have selected are either urban areas or, quite densely populated suburbs. The obvious exception being North Cornwall, set to be an ultra-tight Conservative/ Lib Dem contest. Rural areas are likely to be more authoritarian and nationalistic than their urban counterparts. Additionally, the constituencies in the shortlist are generally reliant on online media for the majority of their news, even when TV is the dominant source of news, it is only by a small margin, as is the case in Warwick and Leamington. The reliance on  online news, over television is generally an urban phenomenon for obvious reasons.

However, there are some foreboding signs that emerge from the polling data. For someone that has been brought up in Hull, it is disappointing to note that the Yorkshire cities seem to be particularly hostile to Libertarian values. Places like Leeds, Doncaster, Hull & Rotherham are all solid Labour territory that have quite strong authoritarian leanings. Much more so that other 'working class' cities. Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham are more generically 'left'. Desiring a bigger state, but have a more socially liberal outlook. Surprisingly for some (and perhaps not for others), areas where UKIP are predicted to do well, are the least socially liberal and are right-wing on all issues including crime and nationalism. If the Libertarian movement wants to gain momentum, it will serve us well to realise that UKIP are not our political allies. UKIP voters also tend to be older and get the majority of their news from the TV. Bucking the trend of my younger, tech-savvy constituents. 

Yet this doesn't mean it will be  easy for a potential Libertarian candidate to win in these areas. Constituencies that are socially liberal as well as wanting to reduce the size of the state are few and far between. The most recent data from IPSOS MORI shows that only 5% of those surveyed, strongly supported the privatisation of public services, compared to 50% who wanted those services to remain in government hands. Not that earning votes is easy for any party, but identifying potential supporters for the Libertarian cause will be of great benefit for the burgeoning movement. I write this as a self-professed Voluntaryist. Someone that doesn't have much faith in state-sanctioned democracy. But engaging with the democratic process, and potentially getting politicians in Westminster that actually care about freedom is in everybody's interest.

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