Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Are secular conservatives more libertarian? Yes

There were some comments below to the effect that secular conservatives tend to be more “libertarian” than religious conservatives. Anyone who has moved in libertarian circles knows that atheists & agnostics are well represented; after all, many libertarians are strongly influenced by the aggressively atheistic Objectivist philosophy, even if few become full-blown Objectivists. I have posted data before which do suggest that conservative seculars tend to be libertarian, but I thought I would do something a bit more systematic. Below the fold are a list of GSS results where the top half are more “social” and the bottom more “economic.” Because of the small number of secular conservatives I used the GSS sample spanning 1988-2008. This is important to keep in mind for questions relating to homosexuality, since those views have shifted a great deal over that time, though others such as abortion have remained static.

Conservatives in GSS, 1988-2008

Atheist/Agnostic “Know God Exists” Full Sample
Favor death penalty for murder 82.2 78.8 78.8
Favor gun permits 66.7 74.4 74
Marijuana should be made legal 38.4 14.9 16.3
Courts not harsh enough dealing with criminals 82.5 81.6 81.6
Mode for “liking of Israel,” 5 to -5 scale -2 1 1
Allow racist to speak 80.1 57.8 58.9
Allow Communist to speak 86.7 61.9 63.1
Abortion if woman wants for any reason, yes 64.7 19.8 22.1
Approve of banning Bible prayer in public schools 55.5 29.5 31
Homosexual relations always wrong 50.2 85.1 83.4
Taxes on high income people too high 26.5 16.2 16.7
Too little Welfare 9.8 16.7 16.3
Too little Social Security 39.2 51.7 51
Too little assistance for child care 30 48.4 47.5
Should be no gov. action to reduce income differences 30.9 18.9 19.7
Federal income tax too high 64.9 64.8 64.8
Socioeconomic index greater than 58 (17-97 scale) 42 33.7 34.2
% Male 69.3 44.7 46

I put the data about sex breakdowns to suggest an important point: the political peculiarities of secular conservatives may have less to do with secularism per se, as opposed to the demographic breakdown of secular individuals in general. In particular, secular conservatives tend to be male, and somewhat above the median in socioeconimc status. Both of these variables tend to lean toward libertarianism.


  • John · August 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Is there a breakdown in the poll by sex and income level? If there was, it would be possible to correct for the demographic factors and see if there is any residual effect. Of course, it is also possible that atheists/libertarians share some personality trait that gives them high incomes.

    69.3% of atheist/agnostic conservatives are male? I didn’t know it was that lopsided. On the other hand, libertarianism is well known to appeal primarily to men. I remember the “Libertariangirl” hoax.

  • Susan · August 15, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Well, I can credibly claim to be both a female and an atheist/agnostic conservative. Then again, I screww up every demographic I get into.

    I’ve never heard of the “libertariangirl hoax”. Are you sure that wasn’t the “libertinegirl hoax”? 🙂

  • Susan · August 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    And sometimes I “screww” up my typing.

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 15, 2009 at 6:53 pm

  • Derek Scruggs · August 15, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    I fit the demographic completely –male, above median income — and yet have generally voted Democratic since ’92 election cycles because of the identity issue. My congressman fits the demographic too except that he’s gay. Of course, being Republican in Boulder is kinda like being a Democrat in Waco.

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    If there was, it would be possible to correct for the demographic factors and see if there is any residual effect

    yes. it looks like sex and income don’t matter nearly as much as religion.

  • Mike I · August 16, 2009 at 6:43 am

    I’m amused that the one question they agree on exactly is that the Federal income tax is too high!

    Also interesting is that 50% of the atheists categorically disprove of homosexuality (has anyone alerted Andrew Sullivan?). I’d be interested in seeing the numbers for ’88 and ’08.

  • logdogsmith · August 16, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Are the categories showing the actual questions that were asked?

  • TrueNorth · August 16, 2009 at 10:36 am

    The anti-Israel slant of libertarians surprises me. I guess the religious conservatives support Israel for biblical “chosen people” sort of reasons, so I can understand the support being a bit higher for them than for atheists, but I would still have expected libertarian conservatives to be more pro- than anti-Israel.

    The “favour death penalty” ranking is also higher than I would have expected and goes against the “atheists are libertarian” assumption.

    I am in the atheist, mostly-libertarian category myself, but I am opposed to the death penalty, very pro-Israel and pro-life but otherwise fit the demographic trends fairly well.

  • Charlie · August 16, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    As a secular conservative, I’d have a hard time taking this poll. For example, I got no problem with prayer in school, but I would like to see public schooling banned. So, how to answer?

  • med · August 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    If the figures are right:

    1. Secular conservatives generally vote Republican for local positions.

    2. Secular conservatives agree with Socialists and World Communists with regards to Federal positions, particularly President.

    3. This explains the reality that Ron Paul and the rest of secular conservatives/libertarians were Anti-Iraq and were more consistent with the idea of Obama.

  • Tony · August 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    med :


    2. Secular conservatives agree with Socialists and World Communists with regards to Federal positions, particularly President.

    With regards to this: NO! Secular conservatives are more likely to support the reduction of bans on human behavior (speech/religion) and increase choices at the Federal Level, and are less likely to believe in need for more Social Security or Welfare. Allowing someone to speak doesn’t make you Stalin, it makes you antithetical to Stalin. Being anti-Iraq doesn’t mean you’re a Communist, it just means you don’t like multi-trillion dollar deficits, an unbalanced executive branch, erosion of international goodwill or all of the above.

    P.S.: I’m fond of none of these things.



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