Jonathan Haidt (author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion) and his team published a recent article in PLoS ONE on the psychological disposition of libertarians (self-identified).
The challenge with this kind of study is in how one defines the term (this is also an issue with his definitions of liberal and conservative, which is why he likely prefers the "self-identified" approach). Haidt traces the origins of libertarianism back to the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on the individual. Much of the nuance of philosophical libertarian thought is lost on those who now call themselves libertarians, such as the tea party crowd.
Haidt catches the gist of the current perspective in this excerpt:
Libertarianism provides an ideological narrative whereby the opposition to high taxes and big government is not just an “economic” position: it is a moral position as well. This narrative provides the basis for principled opposition to a government seen as unfair (because it takes from the productive and gives to the unproductive), tyrannical (because it violates the negative liberty of some people to promote the positive liberty of others), and wasteful (because governments rarely achieve the efficiencies generated by the competition of private firms).The downside of this is that a lot of social conservatives, because they also want a smaller government and lower taxes, have self-identified as libertarian, like Ron Paul. He believes in limited government, except when it comes to social issues - he believes we should ban abortion, discriminate against LGBT people, and his organization has been implicated in racism several times. He is a fundamentalist Christian, and those beliefs reject true libertarian philosophy.
The article is open access.
1 Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States of America, 2 Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, Irvine, California, United States of America, 3 Department of Psychology, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States of America
Abstract TopLibertarians are an increasingly prominent ideological group in U.S. politics, yet they have been largely unstudied. Across 16 measures in a large web-based sample that included 11,994 self-identified libertarians, we sought to understand the moral and psychological characteristics of self-described libertarians. Based on an intuitionist view of moral judgment, we focused on the underlying affective and cognitive dispositions that accompany this unique worldview. Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional cognitive style; and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. As predicted by intuitionist theories concerning the origins of moral reasoning, libertarian values showed convergent relationships with libertarian emotional dispositions and social preferences. Our findings add to a growing recognition of the role of personality differences in the organization of political attitudes.
Iyer R, Koleva S, Graham J, Ditto P, Haidt J (2012) Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366