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June 2008
Volume 22,
Number 5

(Continued from "Intellectual Development," part one)

Please rank the degree to which the following thinkers influenced your intellectual development, on a scale of one (little or no importance) to five (substantial importance).

We are not asking you to report the degree you agree with these individuals' thought — what we seek to know is how important each figure was in the growth of your thinking, especially with regard to social and political matters.

As a reminder to those who've forgotten, the mean is the number commonly called the average. The median response is best explained using an example: the median of the numbers 2, 2, 2, 4, 35, 36, and 38 is 4, as there are three larger and three smaller numbers in the group. The mode is the number that appears most often — in this group, the mode is 2.

The individuals are listed in order of their mean influence on our respondents. The descriptions were written by Bill Bradford, except for those which did not appear in earlier Liberty Polls, which were written by Andrew Ferguson (AJF), Patrick Quealy (PQ), or myself (MRR), as indicated.

Ayn Rand3.745

The thinker who most influenced our respondents' intellectual development was Ayn Rand (1905–1982), the novelist-philosopher, author of "Atlas Shrugged," "The Fountainhead," "For the New Intellectual," "The Virtue of Selfishness," "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal," and other works. Rand advocated a political philosophy based on the absolutism of individual rights, but eschewed anarchism.

Milton Friedman3.645

Milton Friedman (1912–2006) was the leading exponent of the Chicago School of Economics and winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Economics. His writings in defense of capitalism and the free society — "Capitalism and Freedom" and "Free to Choose," for example — have been very influential.

Friedman is less radical than many libertarians, however, and his advocacy of "monetarism" rather than the gold standard or Hayek's controversial notion of "denationalized money" has been a source of many heated debates in the libertarian movement.

Thomas Jefferson3.433

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. He is most admired by libertarians for the advocacy of a natural rights philosophy and the right of revolution that is expressed in that declaration.

F.A. von Hayek331

F.A. von Hayek (1899–1992) was a social philosopher and Nobel Prize winning economist. His book "The Road to Serfdom" (1944) challenged orthodox statist thinking and helped stimulate the post-World War II resurgence of libertarian ideas. He is the author of many works, including "Law, Legislation and Liberty," "The Counter-Revolution of Science," and others.

Like Mises, Hayek avoids the language of "natural law and natural rights," but Hayek is less narrowly utilitarian in approach. He rests much of his case for a free society on a complicated "evolutionary ethics" that emphasizes the "natural selection" of rules and societies. Hayek emphasizes the importance of tradition more than most other libertarian thinkers.

Ludwig von Mises331

Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) was a leading social philosopher and economist of the Austrian School, most famous for his development of praxeology, an approach to economics based on a priori, deductive reasoning from certain fundamental axioms. "Human Action," his magnum opus, is his best known work. He also wrote numerous other books and articles, including "Liberalism," "Socialism," "Theory of Money and Credit," and "Epistemological Problems of Economics."

Although a rigorous advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, Mises saw a role for government. His political thinking was based on utilitarian concepts.

Murray Rothbard2.931

Murray Rothbard (1926–1995) was an economist, historian, and social philosopher who envisioned libertarianism as a new science, encompassing natural rights theory, Thomist philosophy, Austrian economics, 19th century American individualist anarchism, and the view that the United States was invariably at fault in its conflicts with international communism during the Cold War.

He became influential in the libertarian movement in the late 1960s. He joined the Libertarian Party in 1974 after having denounced it vigorously during the previous few years, and during the next 15 years was its most influential figure. He was a founding editor of Liberty in 1987.

In 1989 he resigned from the Libertarian Party and from libertarian organizations that he did not control, proclaiming himself a "paleolibertarian" and an ally of Southern agrarian conservatives centered around Chronicles magazine.

His works include "Man, Economy, and State," "Power and Market," "The Ethics of Liberty," and "For a New Liberty." Rothbard advocated an anarchistic society based on the absolutism of individual rights.

Patrick Quealy adds: Most of the 36 options given in our question about which thinkers influenced respondents' intellectual development were conservative or libertarian figures. However, the question emphasized: "We are not asking you to report the degree you agree with these individuals' thought — what we seek to know is how important each figure was in the growth of your thinking." Our readers obliged this request, supplying many influences that are not considered traditional stepping-stones to libertarianism.

One reason must be that some of our readers aren't libertarians. They just enjoy good writing that is of interest to libertarians, and that is what Liberty publishes. Written-in influences included George Soros, Gore Vidal, the Beatles, British anarchist punk group Chumbawamba, former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra, social critic and education theorist Neil Postman (whom I quoted, coincidentally, in a Reflection appearing in the same issue as the latest Poll), and free-software evangelist Richard Stallman.

Indeed, asking libertarians to fill out a survey without write-in options is like asking a child to eat broccoli without melted Cheez Whiz. So we encouraged write-ins and explanations of any answers respondents thought necessary. The fact that 122 names were written in reply to the question above — some written in by several respondents — shows our readers to be the freethinkers we know them to be. They know not only what they believe, but how they got there.

Murray Rothbard was suspicious of the precision, accuracy, and applicability of poll results. He wrote in our July 1988 issue about the above question: "How in hell could I hope to squeeze into multiple choice the process by which I became a libertarian? My father? A writer? Which one, on a scale from one to five? What impudence!"

I confess that I am sympathetic to Rothbard's view; my enthusiastic support for conducting a third decennial Liberty Poll was not for all the "right" reasons. I like the Poll because it doesn't produce a Libertarianism Quotient to tell how pure your laissez-faire ethic is, or any such thing. It is a little bit playful, while addressing itself to serious and worthwhile questions. It is thereby representative of what Liberty seeks to do, and the way Bill Bradford approached the projects with which he concerned himself, including this magazine. That the Poll tells stories about the evolution of libertarians and libertarianism is a bonus.

Barry Goldwater2.831

Barry M. Goldwater (1909–1998) was a member of the U.S. Senate from 1953–1964 and again from 1968–1987. In the late 1950s he became a spokesman for political conservatism. He espoused his rather libertarian version of conservatism in several books and numerous newspaper columns and speeches. Although an advocate of a rather belligerent foreign policy, Goldwater strongly supported the notion of human liberty.

R.W. Bradford2.733

R.W. Bradford (1947–2005) is best known as the founder, editor, and publisher of Liberty magazine. He maintained that Randian or Rothbardian natural rights theories were philosophically indefensible, but nevertheless held for him great intuitive appeal. Consequentialist rights theories could be philosophically rigorous, but he could not, "in [his] gut," be a consequentialist. He advocated (and with Liberty provided a forum for) open debate on this and other issues of interest to libertarians.MRR

John Locke2.631

John Locke (1632–1704) is widely regarded as one of the most influential British philosophers. Though his "Second Treatise on Civil Government" has been subject to contradictory interpretations, libertarians have followed a long line of classical liberal and anarchist thinkers in taking from it a methodologically individualistic understanding of society and a powerful conception of natural rights. His writing was particularly influential on America's founding fathers, especially Jefferson, which probably accounts for his high rating in this poll. Given the obscurity and length of his major works, we doubt that very many respondents have actually read much Locke.

Henry Hazlitt2.521

Henry Hazlitt (1894–1993) was a philosopher, an economist of the Austrian School, and a prolific writer. His "Economics in One Lesson" (modeled on Bastiat's "Economic Sophisms") is his most well-known book, but he is also remembered for "The Failure of the New Economics" (a thorough critique of Keynesian economics), and "The Foundation of Morality."

He was one of the early editors of The Freeman, and the vice-president of the Foundation for Economic Education at its founding in 1946.MRR

Robert Heinlein2.521

Robert Heinlein (1916–1987) was one of the most influential science fiction writers of all time. Both his life and his writings exemplify the ideal of the "competent man," and a lively streak of rugged individualism runs through all his writings.

Libertarians are especially fond of his several attempts to deal with political revolution, most notably in his fascinating account of a colonial revolt in "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress."

Frederic Bastiat2.421

Frederic Bastiat (1801–1850) was one of the most accomplished stylists who has ever argued for liberty. Though he was more a popularizer than an original thinker, his importance should not be underestimated: his ranking over many contemporary libertarian writers in this poll serves as reminder of this fact.

He is best remembered for his brilliant attacks on the fallacies of state intervention in the economy (his "Economic Sophisms" was the model for Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson") and his powerful defense of natural rights and limited government in his pamphlet, "The Law."

Harry Browne2.421

Harry Browne (1933–2006) first achieved widespread attention with his book "How You Can Profit From the Coming Devaluation" in 1970. He followed this with the bestselling "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World," and "You Can Profit From a Monetary Crisis."

He was the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1996 and again in 2000. After the election of 2000, he was accused of violating the Libertarian Party's bylaws. He maintained his innocence, but was admonished by the Libertarian Party. He continued to write and speak on libertarian subjects until his death.MRR

H.L. Mencken2.321

H.L. Mencken (1880–1956) was the author of many books and countless articles. He is best known for his literary and social criticism — and for his brilliant, witty style.

He was an early proponent of Nietzsche in America, and although he wrote frequently on political topics, Mencken's political thinking was not rigorous. He might best be termed a classical liberal in the tradition of Sumner or Mill.

John Stuart Mill2.321

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), the leading British philosopher and economist of his time, wrote many influential works, including "On Liberty" and "Utilitarianism." His utilitarian moral philosophy has been widely discussed and subjected to a great variety of interpretations, as has his defense of individual liberty. "On Liberty" was about the only 19th century work of classical liberalism to maintain a "good press" throughout the ideologically dark years of the 20th century.

Lysander Spooner2.111

Lysander Spooner (1808–1887) was a writer and pamphleteer and perhaps the most eloquent 19th-century American anarchist. His fully developed political philosophy is best summed up in his brilliant pamphlet "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority." Writing from within the natural law tradition and with an extensive knowledge of the common law, Spooner argued not only that the Constitution of the United States was binding on no one, but that all government, taxation, laws, etc. were inherently unjust.


Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was not a libertarian in any way, but he was a powerful advocate of human reason. His influence on libertarianism comes mostly via Ayn Rand, who considered Aristotle one of the world's greatest minds (right up there with herself).

Nathaniel Branden211

Nathaniel Branden (1930–) is best known to libertarians for Ayn Rand's designating him as her "intellectual heir." He was a member of Rand's inner circle for most of the 1950s and '60s. He fell out of Rand's favor in 1968, she repudiated him, and he remains persona non grata within some circles of Objectivists.

His post-Rand work has been mostly on the importance of self-esteem. His books include "The Psychology of Self-Esteem," "A Woman's Self-Esteem," "Self-Esteem at Work," and "My Years With Ayn Rand."MRR

David Friedman221

David Friedman (1945–) argued his case for "a radical capitalism" with force and vigor in "The Machinery of Freedom." Unlike so many other libertarian anarchists, natural rights argument plays almost no part in his case for anarcho-capitalism. In its place is a thoroughgoing engagement with the new scholarly discipline of "law and economics," of which he has been a pioneer.

Albert Jay Nock211

Albert Jay Nock (1870–1945) was one of the most important writers to have been influenced by the economic theories of Henry George, and his own anti-statist views developed into something very close to anarchism. His classic work in political thought is "Our Enemy, the State."

Karl Hess1.911

Karl Hess (1923–1994) was a speechwriter for Barry Goldwater who became an anarchist in the late 1960s and burst into a position of leadership within the libertarian movement with publication of extremely influential essays in The New York Times and Playboy, also in the late '60s. He brought Murray Rothbard into a prominent position within the movement, and the two jointly edited The Libertarian. Within a few years, Hess resigned from The Libertarian in response to Rothbard's denunciation of Hess for deviation from the true Rothbardian line. In 1986 he became an editor of the Libertarian Party News, and he was an editor of Liberty from 1987 until his death.

Hess has been most influential as a proponent of community life and a "back to nature" simplicity. Though he wrote several books, his influence among libertarians was primarily as a speaker and friend. His political thinking was discursive and lyrical; he explicitly eschewed ideology.

Robert Nozick1.811

Robert Nozick (1938–2002) was a professor of philosophy at Harvard and the author of the National Book Award winning treatise in libertarian political philosophy, "Anarchy, State, and Utopia," which gained academic attention to libertarian ideas like no book before or since. Nozick used Lockean state-of-nature theory and a Lockean conception of moral rights as the foundation for an argument that purports to show how a State could arise out of an anarchistic society without violating anyone's rights; that this minimal state is the most extensive state that can be justified; and that this conception of a minimal state is inspiring as well as morally proper. Though the classic work on minarchist theory, it is generally considered more successful at discussing its many brilliant secondary points than at demonstrating the validity of its main thesis.

During the 1980s, he gradually lost interest in libertarian thinking, and went on to other activities.

John Hospers1.711

John Hospers (1918–) has retired from a long and successful career as a philosopher. Though his academic reputation largely rests on his work as an editor and in the field of aesthetics, he has also contributed to libertarian thought with many articles and his book "Libertarianism" — which advocated a more or less Randian political theory, though his thinking has developed considerably since — and his book "Human Conduct," an introductory text to the study of ethics.

He was the Libertarian Party's first presidential candidate, and wrote the party's "Statement of Principles." He has been a senior editor of Liberty since 1992.

Tibor Machan1.711

Tibor Machan (1939–) is a professor of philosophy, syndicated columnist, and prolific author. He defends a natural rights theory of libertarianism. His books include "Libertarianism, Defended" and "Classical Individualism: The Supreme Importance of Each Human Being."MRR

Robert Ringer1.711

Robert Ringer (1938–) has written several best-selling self-help books, including "Looking Out for Number One" and "Winning Through Intimidation." He was at one time an admirer of Ayn Rand, and his 1979 book "Restoring the American Dream" offered classical liberal, free market solutions to some of the problems that were at the time facing the United States.

He has recently taken to describing himself as a "theoretical libertarian" and "practical conservative."MRR

Thomas Hobbes1.611

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was the first British political philosopher of repute, and is still considered one of the major figures in the history of political philosophy. Hobbes' "Leviathan" is a pioneer work in social contract theory.

Though most classical liberals and libertarians — beginning with Locke — have used Hobbes mainly as a jumping off point and as a target, there is a strong realpolitik strain in some libertarians' social philosophy that bears remarkable resemblance to Hobbes. His weak showing in this poll is no surprise, however.

Immanuel Kant1.611

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was not only one of the most important German philosophers, he is widely considered to be one of the greatest philosophers ever. He wrote numberous works, including "The Critique of Pure Reason," "The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals," and "Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone."

Though he is probably best known among libertarians as — according to Ayn Rand — the chief source of evil in modern times, he was actually a classical liberal. A number of libertarian philosophers have recently written about the advantages of a "Kantian reconstruction of Utilitarianism," and both Mises and Hayek were neo-Kantians in fundamental philosophy.

Herbert Spencer1.611

Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) was an ambitious philosophical systemizer who advocated extremely limited government. He described his own ethical philosophy as utilitarian "in a broad sense," but it is not easy to classify. Many of his arguments against political intervention in society bear remarkable resemblance to Hayek's use of the notion of the limitations of human knoledge. His most familiar work today is probably "Man vs. the State."

Robert LeFevre1.511

Robert LeFevre (1911–1986) was a writer and teacher who inspired and instructed a whole generation of libertarians. He wrote numerous books including "This Bread is Mine," "The Philosophy of Ownership," and "The Nature of Man and His Government." He was what is now (once again) called a voluntaryist, a libertarian who refuses to practice politics, and was an anarchist in everything but name (he strenuously objected to the term, prefering his own understanding of "autarchy"). His relatively low showing in our poll is surprising to us, considering his reputation in the 1960s and '70s.

Peter McWilliams1.511

Peter McWilliams (1949–2000) was an author and a prominent supporter of medical marijuana laws. Having been diagnosed with AIDS and cancer, McWilliams used medical marijuana (legal in California) to control vomiting, a side effect of his medications. His death, reportedly from effects of vomiting, after a judge forbade him to use cannabis drew considerable attention to the excesses of the drug war.

McWilliams wrote books, some of them New York Times bestsellers, on depression and relationships. He gave a well-received speech on medical marijuana at the 1998 Libertarian Party national convention; the speech was televised on C-SPAN and reprinted in Liberty. Aside from his battles with the DEA, McWilliams is best known to libertarians for his book "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country." It made the philosophical and practical case against victimless-crime laws accessible to the general reader.PQ

William G. Sumner1.211

William G. Sumner (1840–1910) was one of the leading American sociologists of the 19th century and also one of the more vigorous advocates of laissez faire. Today known chiefly as a Social Darwinist and as the author of the sociological masterpiece "Folkways," in his time he was respected for his polished essays and his dedication as a teacher. Probably his best known work to contemporary libertarians is his essay "What Social Classes Owe to Each Other."

Morris & Linda Tannehill1.211

Morris and Linda Tannehill (1926–1989, 1939–) collaborated to write "The Market for Liberty," a powerful defense of natural rights-based anarchism which was influential among libertarians in the 1970s.

Libertarianism was only one stop in the ideological odyssey of the Tannehills, who earlier were associated (in chronological order) with the Minutemen, the American Nazi Party, and the Foundation for Economic Education, and subsequently managed a psychotherapeutic cult. Linda Tannehill later took back her maiden name of Linda Locke, and worked as a sandalmaker in New Mexico.

Benjamin Tucker1.211

Benjamin Tucker (1854–1939) edited Liberty, the 19th century anarchist newspaper. Though not an original thinker, he was a fine stylist and an expert synthesizer of others' thinking. He articulated what was later called "anarcho-capitalism," but what he called "individualist anarchism."


The individuals who were written in most often are listed below, in order of a) number of votes, and b) mean influence ranking. Their average response is inflated relative to the individuals listed in the poll, for obvious reasons of selection, but some would be ranked highly had they been included in the original list, even if they received the lowest possible score from all the respondents who did not (here) write them in.

George Orwell4.444

George Orwell (1903–1950) was an English essayist and novelist best known for the anti-Stalinist fable "Animal Farm" and the dystopian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four." Early experiences researching poverty in England's industrial North left him a committed democratic socialist, albeit one with a healthy anarchist streak: though he believed capitalism was a corrupt system, he saw the totalitarian options as far worse. Like many left-leaning authors of the time, he went to Spain to fight against the military government of Gen. Franco; unlike many of the rest, he went on to describe atrocities committed by both Fascist and Communist forces, in his "Voyage to Catalonia."

His antipathy to both funneled into "Animal Farm," in which he summed up the totalitarian worldview in the barnyard motto "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Additionally, he coined a number of terms in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" that have entered into popular usage to describe various encroachments of the surveillance state: Newspeak, doublethink, thought police, and Big Brother.AJF

Friedrich Nietzsche3.845

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was a German philosopher who, between the publication of "The Birth of Tragedy" in 1872 and his mental breakdown in 1889, developed a complex, deeply influential body of work. His most-quoted line, "God is dead," is a formulation of the situation facing modern society: the collapse of shared belief that accompanied the "death," or devaluation, of the Judeo-Christian God. The problem facing humanity, then, is the reconstruction of morality in an age that is "beyond good and evil." In the book of that name, and the mock-Scriptural "Thus Spake Zarathustra," he suggests as an alternative the "will to power," embodied in the figure of the "´┐Żbermensch" (superman), who alone is capable of preventing a slide into nihilism by his creation of values within the moral vacuum. This essentially aristocratic vision of humanity is set in opposition to both traditional Christian morality and the measures of aggregate happiness espoused by utilitarianism.

Nietzsche's writing style, tending towards aphorism and oracular pronouncements, leaves his books open to being misquoted and otherwise taken out of context — by the Nazis, in particular, though there is considerable evidence that he never held any anti-Semitic sympathies.AJF

Thomas Paine3.644

Thomas Paine (1737–1809) was an English philosopher and revolutionary whose pamphlet "Common Sense" converted many British colonists to the cause of American independence. Among the arguments he advanced were the near-impossibility of petitioning Parliament with grievances, and the near-certainty that ties with Britain would embroil America in foreign wars that were not properly her concern.

In the decade after independence had been won, Paine's popularity waned, and he turned his attention to the turmoil in France. During this time he had been preparing "The Rights of Man," a political tract written in defense of the French Revolution, putting forward a rights-based system of democratic governance to counter the aristocratic conservatism of Edmund Burke; the work contains perhaps the first proposal for progressive taxation. Briefly imprisoned during the Reign of Terror, and barely escaping the guillotine, Paine devoted himself to finishing his deistic treatise, "The Age of Reason," outlining the basic creed of a faith shared by many of the Founding Fathers. The work brought him, at first, cautious acclaim; in the wake of the Second Great Awakening, however, he was widely denounced. His reputation has continued to rise and fall since.AJF

Thomas Sowell4.855

Thomas Sowell (1930–) is an economist, syndicated columnist, and prolific author who emphasizes the necessity of using empirical data in all analyses. His books provide a wealth of material to support a utilitarian or consequentialist libertarian position. He is the author of "Race and Economics" (a book which Clarence Thomas credited with changing his life), "Economic Facts and Fallacies," "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," and "The Vision of the Anointed," among many others.

His political philosophy can be surmised from the quotation: "The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics."MRR

Leonard Read44.55

Leonard Read (1898–1983) founded the first libertarian thinktank in the United States, the Foundation for Economic Education. He wrote numerous essays and books, the best known of which is his classic "I, Pencil."MRR

Thomas Szasz555

Thomas Szasz (1920–) is a professor of psychiatry and author best known for his outspoken criticism of institutional psychiatry, most famously presented in "The Myth of Mental Illness." He maintains that a disease must have objectively measurable physical symptoms, and that the bulk of psychiatric disorders are therefore not actually diseases. He further maintains that psychiatry has been, and continues to be, used as a tool for the state to control and oppress the populace.MRR

Mark Twain4.755

Mark Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910) was an American humorist much beloved for his depiction of an idealized childhood in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and much admired for his scathing satire of the slaveholding South in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." His is one of the most recognizable voices in American letters, recognizable across the great many formats in which he wrote — essays, novels, tall tales, travelogues: all are shot through with a straight-faced sardonic wit, which only grew bleaker with age. His distrust of human institutions spilled out in a torrent of quotable sentiments on government, religion, and morality though, curiously, the statement most often attributed to him — "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics" — was, as he acknowledged, taken from Benjamin Disraeli.

(For more, see Timothy Sandefur's "Pained Twain," available online and in our November 2004 issue.)AJF

Hunter S. Thompson4.344

Hunter S. Thompson (1937–2005) was an American journalist, now inseparable from the manic first-person "Gonzo" style he used for the novel "Fear and Loathing Las Vegas" and the essay collection "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," which chronicles the Democratic Party's search for a presidential candidate to run against Thompson's bugbear, Richard Nixon. Thompson's work dealt largely with the "death of the American Dream," in particular the failure of the drug-fueled political idealism of the 1960s; however, the iconic image of the Gonzo journalist he left behind after his shotgun suicide may outlive the applicability of any of one of his individual works.AJF

Ron Paul4.344

Ron Paul (1935–) is a physician, U.S. Congressman, was the Libertarian Party's 1988 presidential candidate, and was for a while a frontrunner in the race for the 2008 Republican Party's presidential nomination.

Paul is a devoted Austrian, and has written several books advocating a return to hard money (i.e., a gold standard). His 2008 campaign briefly thrust classical liberal philosophy into national discourse, although whether he managed to avance the cause of libertarianism is at best debatable. Some libertarians fear that Paul's candidacy may have become a net liability when racist columns published under Ron Paul's name became widely known.

(For more, see Bruce Ramsey's "PFY vs. RP: Is There a Racist in the House?" available online and in our April 2008 issue.)MRR

Continue to part three of our poll results!

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