Few Americans identify as libertarian, survey finds

Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the 2014 National Urban League Conference July 25, 2014 in Cincinnati.

Jay LaPrete/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., appears to be a competitive contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, but few Americans identify with his political ideology, according to a new survey.

Only 14 percent of Americans identify as libertarian, according to new Pew Research Center data. Fewer, just 11 percent, identify as libertarian and also correctly define the term as "someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government."

Additionally, Pew found that self-described libertarians do not always subscribe to libertarian views. For instance, libertarianism is often associated with non-interventionist foreign policy beliefs. Paul over the weekend said derisively, "Let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton." However, Pew found that as many as 43 percent of self-described libertarians think "it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs." By comparison, just 35 percent of the general public said the same.

In other areas, the views held by self-described libertarians were more in line with typical libertarian believes. As many as 82 percent say "Americans shouldn't have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism." Nearly three-quarters of the general public said the same thing.

Additionally, more self-described libertarians (56 percent) than the public overall (47 percent) say government regulation of business does more harm than good. Self-described libertarians are also more likely than the general public to disapprove of social safety-net programs and more likely to support legalizing marijuana.

Pew found that men were twice as likely as women (15 percent compared with 7 percent) to identify as libertarian, while college graduates (15 percent) were more likely to identify as libertarian than those with just a high school education (7 percent).

While just 6 percent of Democrats identified as libertarian, 14 percent of independents and 12 percent of Republicans did so.

Pew's data comes from its political typology and polarization survey conducted earlier this year, as well as a recent survey of a subset of those respondents, conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults.