Despite the New York Times’ recent discovery that Nick Gillespie wears black, the evidence for a “libertarian moment” remains shockingly thin. I recently made that case at a Cato Institute event, at which I parsed the available data to show that there is no evidence that there are seriously libertarian voting blocs up for grabs if the GOP turned to the left on defense or social issues. To summarize, while there are voting groups that do not vote Republican who favor libertarian-esque stands on the NSA or drug legalization, those groups do not support rapid, significant cuts to taxes or government spending.
But sometimes those poll data do not persuade, so the Times’ excitement got me thinking about other data. We know from experience that people tend to be opposed to tax hikes more than they are supportive of tax cuts, and much more than they are supportive of spending cuts. For the “libertarian moment” argument to be true, there has to be a large group of people who, like Cato Institute devotees, are enthusiastic about gay marriage and marijuana legalization and oppose tax hikes. “Libertarian moment” acolytes often say that “Silicon Valley types” and “entrepreneurs” are the people they think will switch once the GOP stops dancing with the icky social conservatives. Do the data support that claim?
Fortunately, I found data to test that hypothesis. In the 2012 general election, California had a statewide initiative on the ballot (Prop 30) to raise sales taxes on everyone and income taxes on households earning more than $250,000. The presidential race was also on the ballot, so here is a unique opportunity to test the “libertarian moment” thesis. Did Obama voters in the Silicon Valley oppose the tax hikes in large enough numbers to be politically significant?
No, they did not. Looked at on the county level, the tax hikes were approved by over 2–1 margins in all four Bay Area counties that could be said to be part of the “Silicon Valley” economy. Those margins were smaller than the margin by which the president defeated Mitt Romney, but not enough to make even a dent in the general trend. “No” to tax hikes polled only about eight to nine points better than Romney.
The same trend can be seen if we look more closely at core “Silicon Valley” communities.The tax hike was passed handily in Palo Alto, Ground Zero for Siliconistas; Mountain View, headquarters to Google; and Cupertino, mothership to the Apple Empire. It passed in the neighboring upper-income cities of Los Gatos, Los Altos, Portola Valley, and Menlo Park. It only failed narrowly in the places where the uber-rich live: Saratoga, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Atherton, and Woodside. In each case, Romney support tracked with opposition to tax hikes, meaning that most of the tax hike opponents were already voting Republican. “No” to tax hikes polled between 8 and 13 points better than Romney in these upper-middle-class to upper-class cities. That’s not chump change, but it also isn’t enough to swing a national election to the GOP. (You can find all the data for this here.)
Of course, that swing is the best-case scenario for “libertarian moment” aficionados. Votes on propositions involve none of the tradeoffs that votes for candidates to. If high-tech, educated, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs largely stay with the liberal fiscal agenda when party is not on the ballot, imagine what they will do when it is.