A generic way to define a libertarian in the US could be 'fiscally conservative, socially liberal'.

Given that the two major parties (GOP and DNC) tend to (again, speaking generically) be diametrically opposed to each other on both of those broad categories of issues, why does it appear that Libertarians tend to side more with the GOP?

Is that actually the case? Or is that the GOP attempting to market to a particular political mindset more so than the other party? Does the actual Libertarian party affiliate with one of the two major parties more than the other?


So, some random theories. Are any of these valid?

  • The Republican Party is better at framing their agenda's messaging to better appeal to libertarians.

  • Libertarians feel the Republican Party is more amenable to their ideals and easier to enact change within.

  • Libertarians have a platform that overlaps parts of both primary parties, but tend to prioritize the platform items that overlap with the GOP more so than the ones that overlap with the DNC.

  • The term 'Libertarian' is fuzzy, and the ones that find the GOP appealing are merely adhering to one definition of libertarianism in the US and don't represent all libertarians.

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    Money is the means to all ends. on the face of it the American left are socially liberal but the bottom line is the more control they take over the economy and the redistribution of wealth, the more power they will gain over society at large and the more power they will have to implement social engineering projects. Economic freedom is a necessary component of social freedom. Oct 24, 2014 at 11:05
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    I don't know that I would actually describe libertarians as 'socially liberal,' at least not in the same sense that I would describe Democrats as 'socially liberal.' Libertarians favor personal freedom to the maximum extent reasonably possible. Democrats nearly the opposite of that. As DVK explained very well, even on the marriage issue, the DNC doesn't take a position of personal freedom. They still want the government to define what does or does not constitute a marriage, they just want a different definition.
    – reirab
    Nov 20, 2014 at 20:34
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    @reirab fair point, but I think the question still stands. Whether one calls it personal freedom or not, the Republican party isn't keen on advocating for it in a lot of situations (gay marriage being but one example).
    – user1530
    Nov 20, 2014 at 23:44
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    @DA True, but at least the GOP (in rhetoric, at least) does support personal economic freedom, so they have a lot more in common with libertarian ideas than the DNC. It is true that there are a lot of areas of disagreement between libertarians and the GOP leadership, though, just not as much as between libertarians and the DNC leadership. I do agree that the question is a valid one (and I think DVK answered it well.) I was mostly just commenting to point out that 'socially liberal' in the same sense that Democrats use the term doesn't really apply to most libertarians.
    – reirab
    Nov 21, 2014 at 0:12
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    @reirab: The empirical evidence is against you on that. Unrestricted free markets simply hand all the power and wealth to a small oligopoly, leaving everyone else "free" to work under T&Cs set by the oligopoly or starve. The question is not whether state regulation is required to prevent this, but what kind. Jun 26, 2018 at 7:17

8 Answers 8


The high level reason is fairly simple. DNC poses more of a threat to libertarian ideals and way of life than GOP.

The main philosophical concern of Libertarians is reduction of violence (or a threat of violence) and coercion in political life. All of the other things that characterize libertarians stem from that high level point.

In practice, the main source of said coercion since at least 1930s comes from the government; therefore in practice, this means that achieving this philosophical goal requires limiting the power of the government.

Between the two parties, the DNC is clearly 100% for increasing the power of central government - both as a goal and as means to achieving other goals. Whereas GOP is - while far from anarcho-capitalists - significantly less so (they still tend to grow government power, and wish to use it in politics for their ends - which is why they are Republicans and not libertarians - but their drive to do so is significantly less both in practice AND on ideological/philosophical level).

Even in areas where GOP does seem (or is) to be supporting government interference, it is VERY frequently in areas that many libertarians either don't view as undue interference, OR where they disagree with the underlying premise by both parties, or both GOP and DNC are not all that different. To whit, the four main "government interference" items that GOP is usually accused of are: abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and military intervention abroad. Let's look at each one in detail:

  • Gay marriage:

    First of all, libertarians don't support EITHER side here. Most of them want marriage equality via the means of turning marriage into a private contract between consenting adults, with ZERO involvement by the state.

    More importantly, while virtually no libertarian I'm aware of supports prohibition of gay marriage (e.g., if they can't get their preferred outcome, they prefer DNC's approach over GOP's), many of them simply view it as an issue to small in importance compared to other ones when choosing between DNC or GOP.

    I don't have polls to back this up, but a simplified version of what I just said would be: A libertarian is likely to vote FOR "pro-gay-marriage" specifically - e.g. in a referendum - but vote against politicians ("D") who are for gay marriage for reasons that have nothing to do with gay marriage but with the politicians' other policies.

  • Abortion:

    It may surprise you, but for the vast majority of people opposed to abortion, that opposition has nothing to do with "wanting power over a woman's body". Nearly 100% of people opposing abortions view the aborted fetus as a live human being, and therefore view abortion as nothing short of killing a human. When viewed from that angle, opposing abortion is nothing more than opposing killing, and therefore is fully within the very few powers that the state SHOULD have, namely protecting lives via law enforcement.

    Note that some have such view for religious reasons, some have such view for purely scientific ones (e.g., for a fetus in a stage late enough that it would have survived in nICU if delivered prematurely, it's hard to make an argument that merely being attached to a placenta and not to nICU life support somehow turns the fetus from a live human being to "perfectly fine to surgically excise part of mother's body". So saying that "but for GOP it is a matter of theocratic domination" is a strawman.

  • Immigration

    This is another one where purely practical considerations matter.

    Yes, in an ideal world, libertarians prefer unlimited immigration (citations to position statements trivial to find so I'll skip them).

    However, that ideal world includes one very important stipulation, that the government won't compel anyone currently residing in the country to help provide for the living of the people who choose to immigrate.

    As it is, that's not the case, and the immigration model as it currently stands serves to strongly enhance the welfare state, since all those immigrants get to be taken care of by the state (health, education, other welfare payments) if they are allowed to reside in USA legally without restrictions. You don't see Democrats offering to trade amnesty for "no welfare/social payments to any newly legalized people, ever", do you?

  • Military aggression

    OK, this one is pretty much one of the main areas of disagreement between many libertarians and the hawkish parts of GOP.

    So why don't libertarians vote for DNC because of this? Reasons vary between different people, but some of them are:

    1. It's not like Democrats (as governing party, not as antiwar demonstrating individual voters) are terribly more peaceful compared to GOP. JFK was more of a hawk than Nixon, LBJ was deeply and fully committed to Vietnam War even if he didn't start it [ed. note JFK did](LBJ subscribed to Domino theory); Clinton military intervened in Serbia and Kosovo, and shot cruise missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan; Obama intervened in Syria, Libya, continued in Afghanistan and re-introduced troops into Iraq and greatly expanded the drone program of George W. Bush.

      And having left-wing government never stopped USSR from invading Afghanistan or being an aggressive military superpower. [Ed. note: Marxist theory calls for revolutionary terror as a "necessity".] Plus, for all their condemnation of US foreign adventurism since Bush, the socialist government of France happily got themselves involved in the war in Mali and before that, started the war in Libya.

    2. Some people simply take a more pragmatic view that defense of the country is the proper (only one of 2 proper) jobs of federal government, even if they are libertarian. Therefore they may object to specific foreign policy steps but don't have any inclinations to vote DNC just because they are "less militarily inclined". Remember that Eisenhower was a Republican.

    3. Some simply take the long view. ANY large and powerful government is more liable to be more militaristic, that's just how history shows the world works. Therefore, going back to the beginning of this answer, to them stopping Democrats from growing the power and size of government is actually synonymous with long term having less militaristic government. See USSR or Cuba.

There are plenty of other topics where libertarians disagree with GOP but DNC would not be much of an improvement in practice based on observed history (war on drugs/drug legalization, prostitution legalization, SWAT and aggressive police tactics, censorship etc...)

To view it another way, look at the stated ideal end goal (leaving aside that in reality the end state would differ from that end goal).

GOP wants the country to be the way USA was in 1950s, sans segregation/racism.

DNC wants the country to be the way France is now.

Which of the two countries do you think a random libertarian would prefer to live in, 1950s USA sans segregation/racism; or 2000s France?

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    – Philipp
    Jul 3, 2018 at 8:03

I think it has less to do with Republican/ Democrat and more with conservative/ liberal, and even these definitions are in a high state of flux.

A Libertarian wants personal freedom, and believes the defining characteristic of government should be in allowing, supporting, and encouraging personal freedoms and the exercise thereof.

Recently, the liberal mindset has geared more towards regulation and implementing social and legal pressures to encourage or discourage behaviors. The liberal is more inclined to support more laws restricting personal freedoms where the individual may be empowered to harm, cause discord, or potentially encourage inequality. Examples of this include gun control laws, SEC/ stock market regulation, environmental regulations, laws against smoking, drinking, behavior, etc.

The conservative mindset is generally resistant to more laws restricting or changing behavior, although there have been notable exceptions in recent years, with conservatism and hawkish behavior becoming closely associated, and additionally the conservative group being dominated with a strong religious conformist influence.

In general, however, the Libertarian's views more closely resemble that of a conservative who resists new laws and regulation, although quite often for different reasons than your standard conservative.

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    I think that last paragraph is a good answer!
    – user1530
    Apr 25, 2013 at 16:05
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    For some reason politicians can claim they are something and their actions define what that means. Imagine If I claimed to be a duck so walking upright and using tools were a duck like thing. There are many people claiming to be conservative and even libertarian that really do not fit that description. And I am so tired of the charge of being liberal being thrown at big governement democrats that want more social programs to keep things basically the same. That is populism not liberalism. Apr 30, 2013 at 18:16
  • Recently? Since the 1930s at least.
    – user9790
    Jun 25, 2018 at 23:29

The libertarian party only represents a particular flavour of libertarianism, a.k.a. anarcho-capitalism. Other anarchists, such as anarcho-syndicalists, tend to oppose both the state and major corporations, but individuals may still consider the state as the lesser of two evils. For example, see Libertarian socialism and Left-libertarianism.

The argument may go somewhat like this: in the past, feudalism and slavery were the norm. Lords owned their subjects, who had no rights but were at the whim of their lords. As social movements and revolutions progressed, this slowly made place for the rule of law; in some countries being gradually replaced by a government somewhat subjected to democratic control, in other countries being replaced by an authoritarian government claiming to represent workers interests. But even in the countries known as democracies, democracy usually extends only to the government, and not to the workplace; at work, policies are still dictated by the boss, as they were in the feudalist part. With the important difference that, at least in theory, anybody is free to leave. Left-libertarians may argue that freedom is not achieved by transferring power from a somewhat democratically controlled government to fully undemocratic companies, but that freedom and egality are achieved by an increased sharing of power.

Now where such libertarians stand in the US political landscape, I'm not sure, but I strongly suspect the majority does not tend to side with the Republican Party. Major forces within the Republican Party have recently supported more corporate power (privatisations, lower taxes, etc.) and a restrictive government (invasive privacy rights, harsher sentences, Patriot act, stricter control on border and immigration, etc.). But such libertarians won't be big fans of the Democratic Party either. But I guess that if forced to choose between those two and only those two (and the first-past-the-post system effectively does force people as far as elections are concerned), they will likely vote for candidates from the Democratic Party.

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    Good info, but not sure this answers my question as much as sets up the premise for my question. It appears that 'libertarians (generically speaking)' in the US tend to affiliate themselves more with the GOP than DNC. And, as you state, there doesn't seem to be a strong/clear reason for that at least in terms of matching political agendas.
    – user1530
    Mar 4, 2013 at 16:43
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    @DA. - as far as I'm aware, libertarian socialists and left libertarians, while they do exist in USA, are pretty thin on the ground. I would be surprised if they are over 10-20% of overall libertarians here, though that's a personall impression and not a fact.
    – user4012
    Mar 4, 2013 at 17:25
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    As a side note, I still consider libertarian socialism as an ocxymoron, as you can not achieve socialism without violence and oppression (if I choose to build my factory on my land using my resources, the only way you can ensure that I don't own the means of production is violently take what I built away from me).
    – user4012
    Mar 4, 2013 at 17:32
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    @DVK ownership is a legal concept existing within a legal framework. For example, take land. How can anyone own land? I can understand the point that if I make something, I own it, and I may sell it or give it away. But nobody can make land, nor energy or other resources. It's only due to the government that any person owns land and resources to begin with. Of course, the transformation from one system (private ownership of land and resources) to another (no such ownership) requires coercion, but so did the transfer from pre-colonisation (no ownership) to the status quo (ownership).
    – gerrit
    Mar 4, 2013 at 17:36
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    Why is this downvoted? (and the complete non-asnwer by Ryan Aghdam has 3 upvotes at the same time :(
    – user4012
    Mar 4, 2013 at 18:54

I think it's because the Democratic party doesn't try to hide the fact that they are for expansion and spending more money, whereas the Republican party attempts to create the illusion that they are for cuts.

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    I somewhat agree, but that appears to take care of only one part of the libertarian objective (shrink federal government). Is it that libertarians prioritize that one particular agenda item over all their others?
    – user1530
    Mar 4, 2013 at 15:48
  • I think the reasoning behind it is that in theory -- not necessarily in practice -- if a party is working towards cuts then it is likely decreasing the scope and invasiveness of the government. Mar 4, 2013 at 22:06
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    I agree, but that still leaves a level of dissonance given that the GOP isn't necessarily doing either.
    – user1530
    Mar 4, 2013 at 22:48

The outcome seems much more natural if you consider the demographics of libertarians in the US and take into account the fact that adoption of an ideology is based on personal factors more than a person changing their lives drastically to suit an adopted ideology.

Libertarians are overwhelming white, and (somewhat less) overwhelmingly male. This is the demographic least likely to come into conflict with the state with regards to their personal lives and also happens to be richer on average. Since this is the case, their personal priorities naturally drift to what financial benefits they can obtain from things like tax cuts rather than focusing on issue of personal freedoms that don't affect them personally.


"Socially liberal" is accurate in the sense that Libertarians oppose regulation, interference or curtailing of the rights of the individual by government. This extends to "interference" in the form of social safety nets (particularly those provided by public funding through taxation), which are core to the liberal platform.

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    @DA. - Corporate safety nets are voluntary, and therefore don't draw any objections from libertarians. Contrary to leftist caricatures, libertarians have no objection to safety nets - only to people being involuntarily compelled to join/support them.
    – user4012
    Mar 4, 2013 at 15:09
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    @DVK sorry, didn't mean corporate managed safety nets, I meant things like corporate welfare, military contracting, energy and farm subsidies, etc.
    – user1530
    Mar 4, 2013 at 15:48
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    @DA. - (1) compare the size of corporate welfare and social welfare (2) "Corporate welfare" is a loaded term but usually means corporations pay less taxes - not that government gives someone else's money to the corporation. Leaving aside the problematic issue that this is applied unevenly, that's on a high level tactically a GOOD thing from libertarian standpoint.
    – user4012
    Mar 4, 2013 at 15:51
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    @DA. - No, it's not the case that libertarians are so weak minded that they fall for "marketing", as you seem to imply. There is a deep and fundamental difference between government giving someone other people's money, and govenment taking less of their own money, having nothing to do with semantic games of calling both "welfare".
    – user4012
    Mar 4, 2013 at 15:59
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    I simply disagree that that is a deep and fundamental difference--but that would be a different question/debate. I also am not implying libertarians are any weaker minded than anyone else in terms of marketing. I'm saying marketing is important. The democrats, IMHO, haven't excelled at that as of late.
    – user1530
    Mar 4, 2013 at 16:01

Historically, the parties were more divided on economics and less divided by culture. For example, Obama was never in favor of legalizing weed and wasn't in favor of gay marriage until 2012, while Biden sponsored a fair amount of tough-on-crime legislation. So this left with Libertarians with a choice between a party that supported their economics and not their culture and a party that didn't support their economics and only somewhat supported their culture.


Libertarians don't side with GOP or Democrats. They are split between them. Your confusion is caused because there is another axis of political affiliation that you are missing, authoritarian/populist/totalitarianism vs. libertarian/individualism/anarchism. Libertarians are outside the 1 dimensional spectrum. See the Nolan chart for the best explanation.



nolan chart

  • The question was in the context of Libertarians in the US overwhelmingly (if not completely) running as Republicans...however, that wasn't necessarily clear. Perhaps that would be a better separate question (why, in the US, do Libertarian candidates always run as Republicans?)
    – user1530
    May 7, 2015 at 6:21
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    @DA. - I wouldn't be surprised if libertarians also vote for R overwhelmingly, with some exceptions.
    – user4012
    May 7, 2015 at 16:16
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    @Chloe - they DO side with GOP or Democrats, not out of some deep ideological intricacies of Nolan Chart, but out of the first-past-the-post electoral system enforcing the dominance of only 2 parties. Outside of narrow range of exceptions, you will ALWAYS have either D or R in a specific elected slot; so as an electorate member you have to pick one to side with even if you aren't identical to either politically.
    – user4012
    May 7, 2015 at 16:18

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