Libertarians lead Independent shift from Obama

Who are these centrist, independent-minded voters who swung the elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts to Republican candidates and are likely to be crucial in races this fall?

These voters are neither populist nor conservative. But many may be libertarian — fiscally conservative but socially liberal or tolerant. Libertarians seem to be a leading indicator of this trend in centrist, independent-minded voters, based on an analysis of many years of polling data. We estimate that libertarians compose from 14 percent to 23 percent of voters nationally. They are among the few real swing voters in U.S. politics.

Libertarian voters are often torn between their aversion to the Republicans’ social conservatism and the Democrats’ fiscal irresponsibility. These days, they are angry about spending, deficits and government takeovers — but less motivated by social issues.

In 2004 and 2006 showed libertarian voters moving toward the Democrats. They may well have cost Republicans control of Congress. If Republicans make big gains in 2010 with libertarian votes, we could be hearing about a “libertarian revolution.”