Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Tea Party Unmasked

David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, in a New York Times article, provide some interesting insight into just exactly who these professed Tea Party adherents really are. The authors performed a study of the political attitudes of 3000 people in 2006, before the rise of what would come to be known as the Tea Party. They were able to go back and re-interview many of the same people recently. This allows them to correlate a person’s original political beliefs with the tendency to associate with the Tea Party.

The authors find that those who would be Tea Partiers today are merely the traditionally highly conservative wing of the Republican Party. The Tea Party is not a new movement, and it was not a grass roots development born of the Great Recession. These people have always been there. The only difference is that now they have greater influence in a more conservatively aligned Republican Party.

“So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.”
“More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.”

Those who seem concerned about Sharia law entering into our jurisprudence are not concerned with religious freedom; they merely want to impose Biblical law on our legal system instead. The Republican candidates for president are aware of this and the worst of them (most of them) pander to these people, throwing Biblical red meat whenever possible.

The authors do provide us with a bit of encouragement by pointing out that the majority of citizens, while perhaps growing economically conservative, are moving in the opposite direction with respect to politics and religion.

“Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics.”

“ data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like ‘atheists’ and ‘Muslims.’ Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.”

They finish with this historical comparison.

“Indeed, at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, today’s Tea Party parallels the anti-Vietnam War movement which rallied behind George S. McGovern in 1972. The McGovernite activists brought energy, but also stridency, to the Democratic Party — repelling moderate voters and damaging the Democratic brand for a generation. By embracing the Tea Party, Republicans risk repeating history.”

The good news is that the Tea Partiers are out of phase with the majority of the citizens. The bad news is that there are so many of them—and they will always be there.

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