Then, from about 1996 on, I called myself a conservative.
That's exciting, because I feel like I need a new label.
I know there was a movement a couple of years ago to abolish political and ideological labels. But the brain likes labels, just as it likes other shortcuts. We want to know the time, not how to build a clock. But group labels are far more important than mere shortcuts. Labels change the way we treat others and increase our willingness to cooperate.
In short, a simple common name triggers assimilation into a preferred group.
Research by Henri Tajfel and others shows that this in-group/out-group dynamic happens for the lightest of causes. In one experiment, he divided a group of otherwise similar people by flipping a coin: heads go to one team, tails to another. Almost immediately and with no additional information, these subjects rated their "team mates" as more interesting and having better artistic taste than the other team's members.
Someone who identifies as "Republican" favors other Republicans over any other label. Likewise for conservative, liberal, progressive, Democrat, centrist, and, of course, libertarian.
So simply saying "I am a libertarian" changes your view of yourself and of everyone else in the world. That's powerful stuff.
Why Libertarian Might Be The Thing
I've pointed out before that the Millennial generation (born between about 1982 and 2002) is becoming increasingly libertarian over time. Ironically, Millennials are also joiners who favor group activities and work well with others. But they want to work in self-forming and self-directed groups, much like the GIs of World War II and very unlikely the radical individualists of Generation X (born about 1962 to 1982).
Also, the Millennials will be the largest generation in American history to date, surpassing the Boomers by several million. With Boomers now reaching elderhood and Generation X being uncentered and small in number, political influence will quickly shift from Boomers to Millennials by 2020, when even the youngest Millennials will have reached voting age.
And Ron Fournier, writing at the National Journal, speculates that Millennials might soon abandon both establishment parties.
In politics, Millennials rewarded President Obama in 2008 because they liked what he was selling. But he quickly damaged his post-partisan brand, and young voters drifted away in 2012. Going forward, Diggles says her beloved Democratic Party can't take Millennials for granted. This is a choosy bunch, a generation of disruption.
After establishing a sociological profile, Diggles pulls together a variety of polling (including surveys I wrote about here and here) to show how young voter attitudes are already defying conventional politics.
- Since Obama's election, the number of self-identified independents among the Millennial Generation has increased by 11 points, nearly twice the pace of all other generations. "They aren't satisfied with either side," she says.
- More than other generations, they believe government can play a positive role in people's lives. That could be good news for Democrats, but think of the events that have shaken Millennials' faith in government: Iraq, Katrina, the financial crisis, and the Affordable Care Act rollout. More than half of young voters think something run by the government is usually inefficient, up 9 points since 2009. The percentage of Millennials who "trust the government to do what's right" all or most of the time fell from 44 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2013.
- They're skeptical of big institutions, including corporations and churches. In a warning to Democrats, Diggles writes, "Millennial voters are unlikely to align with a political party that expects blind faith in large institutions – either governmental or nongovernmental."
- They are socially tolerant, which raises severe problems for the GOP.
But Be Careful
Millennials might not adopt the libertarian label. They may go someplace else entirely. My guess is their preferences will remain what we call "libertarian." They will want government to do fewer things but do them well. They will want government to greatly reduce or eliminate prohibition on behavior, but they will expect punishment for behavior that hurts others. They will expect charity to become a private matter, but ostracize the selfish and greedy who refuse to help out in a pinch.
Most of my life I felt like a libertarian but identified as a conservative or Republican. That was a cop out, really. There just weren't enough libertarians to form a critical mass.
So call me an opportunist or a coward or a bandwagoneer. Just so long as you call me a libertarian.
UPDATE: Dave Leonhardt writes in the NYT that Millennials could morph into more traditional conservatives. H/T Ben Evans of Heritage Action.