Scott Sumner  

Why are non-whites so libertarian?

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I hope the title of this post got your attention. If not, I hope the content will make you rethink some assumptions. Let's start with immigration: Are whites or non-whites more supportive of freedom to migrate? I could not find any direct poll results on that question, but I did discover that non-whites are more likely to believe that immigration is good for America. That makes me think they are also probably more likely to support immigration, although I concede that's a slightly different question. Here are the results of an October 2017 Pew Survey:

Overall, 83% of Hispanics say immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. This compares with 70% of blacks and 60% of whites who say this.
Interestingly, support for immigration has been rising rapidly in recent years. That's especially true among Democrats, but also to a lesser extent among Republicans. Immigration is increasing seen as part of America's national character (a point I made in another recent post.)
Views about immigrants and the nation largely parallel attitudes about whether openness to people from all over the world is an essential aspect of the national character: 68% say openness to foreigners is essential to "who we are as a nation," while 29% say that if America is too open to people from all over the world "we risk losing our identity as a nation."
Perhaps it's no big surprise that Hispanics have a positive view of immigration, but the findings for blacks is a bit more surprising, as some economists claim this group is adversely affected by immigration of low-skilled workers from Mexico and Central America.

Even more surprising is the view of non-whites on trade. This is from a November 2017 survey of views on trade:

Minorities in the United States express systematically more positive attitudes toward international trade than whites. This finding is puzzling in part because minorities are more economically vulnerable than Whites. They are more likely to experience unemployment, and their position in the national income and education distribution makes them an unlikely source of trade support. Nonetheless, we find systematically greater support for globalization among Americans who are ethnic and racial minorities. Because this pattern had not been previously noted, we used Chicago Council surveys to explore whether this was a recent phenomenon.
Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 6.17.56 PM.png The study finds that whites were more supportive of trade during the 1990s, but non-whites became more supportive in the early 2000s, and continue to be more supportive today.

In addition to freedom to migrate and freedom to trade, another important freedom is the ability to build a home where you chose to live. Indeed zoning restrictions may now be the single most harmful of all American government regulations. So what do non-whites think about the idea of building more housing in urban areas? These results were from a September 2017 California survey:

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 6.21.41 PM.png
I suspect that non-whites would support regulatory changes making it easier to build more housing in urban areas. However I can't prove it, as this survey question is rather vague. If anyone finds a better survey question, please let me know.

Why am I writing a blog post on the views on non-whites with respect to a variety of very important freedom issues? Because I frequently encounter commenters who believe that whites, and especially Anglo-Saxon whites, are freedom lovers. These commenters don't want immigration from cultures that lack the long Anglo-American cultural tradition of liberalism. They fear it will change America.

I suspect that there are issues (perhaps the 2nd Amendment?) where whites still do poll more libertarian. But these three issues are not small ones; indeed they are some of the most important freedom issues facing our society. And if I've interpreted the results correctly (which is certainly debatable), non-whites seem to be more pro-growth and more libertarian on all three issues. I find that to be quite interesting.

Update: One reason why I'm pretty confident about my interpretation of the poll results is that most people are not intellectuals who draw fine distinctions. How they answer one question is a pretty good indication of how they answer another question on the same general topic. If they think immigration is good for America, they probably support it.

PS. How do you say "Dame la libertad o dame la muerte!" in English?

HT: Razib Khan

COMMENTS (24 to date)
Mark writes:

Did any of these surveys gauge immigration status, or whether they were 2nd or third generation, etc? The general trend here may be: the more recently you/your ancestors came here, the less inclined toward nativism you are. Which is fairly intuitive.

Lawrence D'Anna writes:

I think there's a potentially reasonable version of the political externalities argument, and a noxious, racist version.

Fortunately, there's a simple test to tell which one you're dealing with. Just ask if they're worried about rates or levels. Ask, "Are you worried about political externalities if the number of people from whatever ethnic group or national origin exceeds a certain percentage of the population, or are you worried yearly immigration flows exceed a certain percentage?"

If they're worried about levels, it's the racist version. Examples like Hong Kong show the long Anglo-American cultural tradition of liberalism works great if you transplant it to an entirely different ethnic group.

If what's at stake is religion and not ethic or national origin, it gets more complicated. I don't even know if it's possible to disentangle object level claims about what various religions are like from religiously motivated bigotry and intolerance. Both things clearly exist, and they're clearly not the same thing, but where one stops and the other begins isn't so clear.

Jeff G. writes:

I think you're missing the important qualifier non-whites living in America. I would guess that if you asked the same questions to, say Mexicans living in Mexico, you would get different results.

Jon Murphy writes:


I would guess that if you asked the same questions to, say Mexicans living in Mexico, you would get different results.

If that's the issue, then why are whites in America scoring lower? Wouldn't they score about the same or higher?

Scott Sumner writes:

Mark, I'm not sure.

Lawrence, Interesting idea.

Jeff, One important question is; "Do attitudes change once they move here?"

Hazel Meade writes:

One thing that bothers me about the claim that white people are just more libertarian is that it entails essentially giving up on attempting to convince non-whites of the merits of libertarian politics, as if those ideas just weren't convincing enough on the merits.
The idea that we're going to preserve a libertarian society by preventing new people from joining it - it's like trying to preserve your religion by banning converts, on the grounds that it's just too implausible to win any.

MikeP writes:

The most prominent policy stance of the American voter is raw protectionism. Restrictive immigration, restrictive trade, restrictive zoning. All of these are at their core not racist or nativist or nationalist: they are protectionist.

Those who have more to protect will have stronger protectionist impulses.

Whites at least perceive they have more to protect, hence they are more protectionist.

Andrew_FL writes:

Now do the minimum wage, marginal tax rates, government spending/entitlements, and so on.

John Thacker writes:

What's interesting is that the poll still showed that Republicans in California were more supportive than Independents, who were more supportive than Democrats. Given the ethnic breakdown of the parties, white Democrats must have some astonishing anti development numbers.

Handle writes:

Question 9 is phrased very poorly (perhaps purposely) and the results are subject to different interpretations about ideological motivations.

One interpretation of "favoring building more housing" could be downright Socialist, that is, favoring a policy in which the government builds much more Section 8 or other subsidized housing (as it has been doing in some Maryland suburbs of DC), or mandates production quotas or the construction of certain numbers of other price-controlled 'affordable' housing units in exchange for the right to build anything else.

Someone thinking that way isn't at all interested in letting capitalists get rich doing whatever they (that is, their customers) want done with land.

If one was really looking for a question serving as a good proxy testing for libertarianism, then one would have asked, "Do you favor or oppose the repeal of zoning rules and other housing regulations, which would allow the owners of private property to build whatever they want?"

I expect the answers would come out quite different.

Steve F writes:

It makes a great deal of sense why those demographics could hold those views AND that they would not represent any increased association with libertarianism.

Mark writes:

Jon Murphy,

I'm not sure if this was Jeff's point, but one could argue (in fact I think this is exactly what's the case) that it's not so much people's race or nationality that makes them more or less libertarian on this or that, as Scott may be suggesting, but whether they are immigrants (or how recently descended from immigrants they are).

So, a Mexican living in America or an American living in Mexico will tend to be more favorable on immigration and international trade than an American living in America, or a Mexican living in Mexico.

Or if it really is race, and white people are just less libertarian than non-white people, we would expect predominately white countries to be less libertarian than predominately non-white ones. Which is a proposition I seriously doubt. See Mexican attitudes toward Central American immigration as an example.

Weir writes:

Stick or carrot? Which is going to be the best way to reach out to white people to persuade them to change their minds about their restrictive policies?

Try the stick. Say something like, "The Ku Klux Klan no longer controls Portland, but progressives have successfully reduced the black population of Portland by 11.5 percent in 4 years, according to the LA Times." Obviously that'll sound like an insult to the white people of Portlandia. It's an insulting thing to say. White people don't want to be told they're racist. As an opening gambit, "poisoning the well" ends the conservation. It's a way of announcing that there's no point in talking.

Now try the carrot instead. Explain to Portland's landed gentry that they'd actually be better off if they didn't keep bidding up the price of real estate on themselves and their oh-so-precious kids. They're locking themselves and their families into a war they cannot win, making life harder for themselves and their children even when they think they're doing what they need to do, restricting access to those "good schools" they talk about, and making admission into the Ivy League a life-long ordeal.

This is the carrot. You don't have to keep ferrying your child to all those millions of after-school activities that look good to the admissions board. You don't have to work your guts out to get your child into those unpaid internships. You could stop competing with all the other wealthy white progressives, and as a cool side-benefit you could also stop grinding the faces of the poor.

And this is the stick. You hate black people. You're a racist. You're evil and hate-filled. I will keep calling you names until I shame you into silence. You are the Ku Klux Klan in your Lululemon yoga pants.

Which is the more effective argument? And how would we ever find out, if nobody wants to try the carrot instead of banging on with the stick?

John Thacker writes:
If one was really looking for a question serving as a good proxy testing for libertarianism, then one would have asked, "Do you favor or oppose the repeal of zoning rules and other housing regulations, which would allow the owners of private property to build whatever they want?"

I expect the answers would come out quite different.

Fair question, but you would be wrong. See the study that asked "Do you favor changing California’s environmental regulations and local permitting process to make housing more affordable." Now, that had a big change on white Democrats versus white Republicans, but non-white Californians were still more in favor than white Californians overall. From the link to the May survey:

"A solid majority of adults (61%) and a plurality of likely voters (47%) favor changing California’s environmental regulations and local permitting process as a way to make housing more affordable in their part of the state. Majorities across regions are in favor (68% Inland Empire, 63% Los Angeles, 60% Central Valley, 60% Orange/San Diego, 55% San Francisco Bay Area). Across parties, Republicans (59%) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (51%) to be in favor. Majorities of Latinos (80%), African Americans (72%), and Asian Americans (58%) are in favor, compared to fewer than half of whites (47%)."

Non-white Californians are more libertarian than white Californians when they specifically ask about environmental regulation and deregulating the local permitting processing.

Thaomas writes:

I think the answer is white identity politics. Somehow being anti trade, anti-immigrant, pro-War on Drugs, pro-War on Terror/Crime was adopted as badges by a section of whites as ethnic/cultural markers.

This is not seen as "Libertarian" because Libertarians justly or unjustly are identified as being against economic measures that transfer or seem to transfer income "down" the income scale.

Floccina writes:

Something I think Republicans miss is that it was the white democrats who are socialists and voted for Bernie. Though blacks and Hispanics vote heavily for Democrats they are less socialistic than you might think keeping the party form veering left.

I wonder if blacks and Hispanics are more likely to support the legalization of recreational drugs. I would guess yes.

Floccina writes:

I didn't see this in the comments above so:

The lowest 20% of earners benefit more than average from lower prices due to free trade, and are not mostly not in danger of job loss due to trade. Those for whom being anti-trade was most self interested are those who had relatively high paid manufacturing jobs that earned them more than could earn elsewhere. I would guess that would put then in maybe the 30 to 60 percentile by income.

Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to have been in that situation where being anti-trade was in their self interest.

Jeffrey S. writes:

This blogger has been looking at survey data for years. Unfortunately for your theory, the results are not good:



["The percentages serve as a good gauge for social conservatism paired with support for redistributionist policies and special privileges for the disadvantaged--think of the values as anti-libertarian scores." -- Guess who has the highest scores?]

3) Hispanics in Arizona voted for Prop 202 by a 56% to 44% majority:

4) Majority of Americans with a favorable view of communism are non-white:


["When it comes to government funding for the care of the sick and the old, roughly corresponding to medicaid and medicare, native-born high IQ whites--the only demographic where libertarians can be found--are fairly skeptical. Immigrants, NAMs, and those of modest intelligence, in contrast, are big supporters. They want the government to do everything."]

Jeff G. writes:

@Mark. Well said, that was what I was suggesting. Now I don't know how true it is. I just wanted to point out that the poll isn't really controlling for ethnicity.

Biopolitical writes:

Give me freedom or give me death!

Fred Anderson writes:

A perhaps simplistic answer to your title's question, "Why are non-whites so libertarian?"

Perhaps non-whites feel more subjected to abuse from state authority figures.
And hence lean toward reductions in such state authority.

What if this causes leftists to oppose immigration?

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

Mark "Or if it really is race".

It is never about race, though it might be about ethnicity. 'Race' is just a really bad way to talk about ethnicities, and collections of ethnicities, that the US is sadly addicted to, and has spread its addiction to much of Western academe.

'Race' is typically constructed as a meta-ethnicity (folk of European descent, folk of sub-Saharan African descent, etc), but in doing so just abstracts further away from actual causal factors.

If such questions were put as "are folk of European descent more x?" then people would immediately see that it matters (1) which Europeans and (2) one is talking about cultural and civilisational factors.

Even with 'black' in the US: do you mean the descendants of slaves who went through Jim Crow? Do you mean Afro-Caribbean immigrants? Do you mean recently, highly educated African immigrants who tend to do well in the US? Those are very different groups.

The minute questions are framed in racial terms, the discussion has been massively dumbed down.

Jose writes:

Apart from the obvious adjustment for non-whites that benefited from immigration to some degree, I think the inquiry should go further and ask why people support or not immigration. I think that the combination of immigration and welfare state are a good bet. Whites (10+ generation immigrants) resent first generation immigrants that benefit from a welfare state that they did not contribute to, but was created by the former.

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