Tea Partiers: It’s the Economy, Stupid

April 3rd, 2010 at 8:35 am | 31 Comments |

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Despite being one of the most newsworthy political movements in recent memory, astonishingly little is known about the Tea Party. Thankfully that is changing thanks to a survey of its members conducted by the Winston Group.

The survey compares the attitudes of people who self-identify as part of the tea party movement against other registered voters. The survey suggests that the tea party movement is largely motivated out of economic and fiscal concerns. Kristen Soltis, a Winston Group researcher, notes at the Huffington Post:

But what truly sets the Tea Party apart from even Republicans or conservatives broadly is its commitment to economic conservatism. Tea Party members, like voters overall, are very focused on the economy and jobs; some 36% say it is their top issue. Yet while only 6% of voters overall say that the national deficit and spending are their top issues, that number spikes to 21% among Tea Party members.

The whole report is here. FrumForum went through the report and identified five other noticeable points from the survey, and their possible implications.


1. They really disapprove of Obama. It’s not surprising that the tea party movement disapproves of Obama since the movement is a response to his Presidency. What’s notable is that while 80% of members of the tea party movement disapprove of Obama, the Winston Group’s own survey data suggests that in the general population, the figure is between 44% and 48%. This is on track with other polls such as Gallup.

Implication: The unpopularity that people may direct towards Obama at a tea party rally is not representative of the population as a whole.

2. Immigration may not matter. If Obama decides to tackle immigration reform next, some have wondered what the tea party response would be. Interestingly, it may not be an issue for most rank and file tea party members. When asked whether immigration was an issue that motivated how they voted, tea parties responded that it was just as low on their priority list as the average population. They also gave “cracking down on immigration” as a “best” way to create jobs nearly same weight as the average voter—which is to say, not as much weight as tax cuts or developing energy resources.

Implication: Some have argued that if the Democrats move to immigration reform, that the tea party movement will reveal itself to be driven by anti-immigrant sentiment. The data does not suggest that this should be expected.

3. Fox News Matters (but Talk Radio less so). Tea partiers gave Fox as one of their top two sources of news more often then the average voter. While no one source of media was listed as providing an overwhelming majority of news for tea partiers, Fox News came back with the strongest response, certainly outpacing the average population. Interestingly, while talk radio still polls stronger among tea partiers then the average population, it was not by the same numbers that Fox News did.

Implication: Fox News matters to the tea party movement, so it is important to see how Fox News presents the news to them.

4. They are largely conservative and Republican—with caveats. The data largely backs up the notion that the tea party movement comes from a conservative and Republican background, almost two-thirds of the members would consider themselves Republicans and similar numbers would consider themselves conservative. This does mean that roughly a third of its members identify as either liberal or moderate, but it is hard to dispute who the majority of its members are.

Implication: In The American Conservative, Michael Brendan Dougherty argued: “Despite the real idealism of some of its activists both inside and outside the Beltway, the Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum.” The predominance of Republicans within the movement helps to support this view.

5. The Tea Party Movement is Small. While they are loud and influential, only 16% of registered voters polled said they were a part of the Tea Party movement. This means that when the poll says “80% of the Tea Party disapproves of President Obama” we are talking about 80% of that 16%.

Implication: 16% is not nothing, but it is also not 50%. The Republican Party will inevitably have to incorporate the tea partiers into its election strategies, and it will need to remember that as a share of the population, they are not an overwhelming majority.


The report includes other interesting information about the demographics of the movement as well as its values, and can be downloaded here.


My pieces on FrumForum: http://www.frumforum.com/author/noah-kristula-green
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31 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    ……I thought most of these people were unemployed and/or on welfare……and the only people they are influential with are Republican politicians who are trying to make use of them…..it’s hard to know who is using whom

  • mlloyd

    When George Bush Jr. was president, we had exploding deficits and a new medical entitlement that was financed with deficit spending rather than reducing the debt as this Democratic bill did. Plus the state claimed it had the right to spy on everyone without oversight and detain citizens without charges.

    And now the Tea Partiers claim they are concerned about big government and spending?!?

    Michael Brendan Dougherty was right. There is zero reason to believe any of the Tea Party’s professed principles have anything to do with their state of agitation.

  • advocatusdiaboli

    I’ll let someone else speak for my point of view that the Modern Tea Party has nothing akin to the patriots of the American Revolution. They are a rag-tag motley crew of angry haters who use double talk to mask their desire to do nothing and be part of nothing. They have more in common with Nzi than the founding patriots of this nation.

    In a special to the WashPo (link at the bottom from the SJ Mercury News) by T.M. Breen bings out four points:
    First, the American patriots of 1773 and 1774 worked hard to promote unity.
    Second, the colonists did not protest taxation. To be clear: They protested against taxation without representation, an entirely different matter.
    Third, the colonists appreciated that any disgruntled person can mouth words of protest. But resistance to Britain demanded serious sacrifice.
    Fourth, Americans who supported resistance understood that revolution could destabilize the entire social order. Mass movements often degenerate into anarchy, and private complaint serves only to compromise the common good.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_14808698

  • Noah Kristula-Green

    Not sure if ottovbvs is being snarky or serious… but the survey did not ask if they were on welfare.

  • ottovbvs

    Noah Kristula-Green // Apr 3, 2010 at 10:25 am

    “Not sure if ottovbvs is being snarky or serious… but the survey did not ask if they were on welfare.”

    ……a bit of both…..there has been much press comment that many of these teabaggers are actually unemployed and therefore, presumably in receipt of unemployment bennies which are usually labelled welfare by the party to which most of them belong…..but then intellectual coherence is not their most notable feature is it?

  • LauraNo

    Michael Brendan Dougherty was right. There is zero reason to believe any of the Tea Party’s professed principles have anything to do with their state of agitation.

    You’re exactly right, mlloyd. Their anger stems from some unstated (maybe unrecognized?) reason. Zero reason to believe anything they say. But boy can they say it loudly.

  • TerryF98

    Hands off my medicare, no Socialist healthcare!!!!!!
    No new taxes. My Social security is fine!!!!!
    There is a black man in the White House. We are not racist!!!
    We want our country back, Where did it disappear ?
    We are very angry, though we were not angry at Bush who caused this mess!!!

  • TerryF98

    Headline should read.

    It’s the Stupid, Stupid

  • rbottoms

    Tea Partiers: It’s the Economy, Stupid

    Fixed.

  • aDude

    There’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room. (I was going to say “elephant” or “rhinoceros” but either would convey the wrong message).

    Tea Party folks are right to be worried about the long term fiscal health of the country. But they don’t realize that they are the problem. Older Americans tend towards the Tea Party, but older Americans are going to go from taking 9% GDP from working Americans to taking 20% GDP from working Americans over the next 15 years. The only way to ensure fiscal health is to greatly reduce government payments to the retired, either through cutting benefits in half or by raising the retirement age to 74. As soon as this is pointed out to a Tea Party person, they refuse to accept the facts. But facts are stubborn things.

    I know there is this stereotype that there are going to be massive tax hikes to give money to, say, unemployed people of color, but the cold hard reality is that without reform, there are going to be massive tax hikes among the working to give money to a whole lot of non-working old white folks.

    I still search in vain for the Conservative politician who has the courage to say this to the Tea Party crowd.

  • TerryF98

    “I still search in vain for the Conservative politician who has the courage to say this to the Tea Party crowd.”

    Hell will freeze over first.

  • BoolaBoola

    Tea Party is not a consequential movement. It’s a bunch of out-of-work low-lifes who were lucky enough to be hired by Republican operatives to pretend to be a movement.

  • jabbermule

    BoolaBoola:

    “Tea Party is not a consequential movement. It’s a bunch of out-of-work low-lifes who were lucky enough to be hired by Republican operatives to pretend to be a movement.”

    Incorrect. the plurality of tea party members consist of retired white females.

    Additionally, 99.9999999% of all tea party members, whether they’re affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Nation, or Tea Party Express, are all volunteers who donate their time and energy to a principled cause and are not ‘hired’ by anyone. If you prefer to paint them all as racists and morons, then it’s time you glanced in the mirror.

    And by the way, being an out-of-work person myself, I resent being referred to as a ‘low-life.’

  • ottovbvs

    jabbermule // Apr 4, 2010 at 9:02 am

    “Additionally, 99.9999999% of all tea party members, whether they’re affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Nation, or Tea Party Express, are all volunteers who donate their time and energy to a principled cause and are not ‘hired’ by anyone.”

    ……So where’s all the money coming from to bus them around, hire venues, set up phone banks, manufacture the artifacts of protest?, etc etc……..Answer: mainly the Koch family and a couple of casino billionaires who have set up the entire Dick Armey astroturf operation……these people some of whom are very ugly but some of whom I’m sure are sincere in their beliefs are basically being used by far right business interests…..it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

  • jabbermule

    ottovbvs: “So where’s all the money coming from to bus them around, hire venues, set up phone banks, manufacture the artifacts of protest?, etc etc”

    Members that ride on buses to tea party events pay, on average, about $25 apiece, and the buses don’t roll unless they are filled. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to pay for them. The funding for most everything else comes from the sale of hats, t-shirts, and other such items. The ‘artifacts of protest’ are home-made signs put together by individual members with a stick of wood (about $2.00 at any Home Depot), along with poster board, magic markers, staples, and duct tape.

  • TerryF98

    The ‘artifacts of protest’ are home-made misspelled signs put together by individual members with a stick of wood (about $2.00 at any Home Depot), along with poster board, magic markers, staples, and duct tape.

    Fixed………….

  • blowtorch_bob

    The tea partiers would serve themselves well if they undertook a serious economic study on the transfer of wealth, since the 1980′s the rich getting richer, carving out an ever larger slice of the economic pie, the top 5 per cent owning 90 per cent of the wealth, etc.

    I’m not sure of the exact figures off hand, But if you go back to the 1950′s which is ground zero for motherhood and apple pie and safe streets the distribution of wealth was far more equal than today.

  • ottovbvs

    jabbermule // Apr 4, 2010 at 9:39 am

    ……so all those stories about the many millions of bucks that Kochs and others have poured into Armey’s Freedom Works who’ve orchestrated all this tea party nonsense are a complete fantasy……..the money was spent in bondage clubs……are you really that naive

  • Rob_654

    It is some really crazy timing that when the country was bring driven into the ditch while a white guy was President there was not one Tea Bag in sight – but as soon as the first black guy gets close to winning the White House all hell breaks loose and Tea Bags start pouring from the sky – yup – one heck of a coincidence.

    Then we have the Old Folks out there protesting Medicare while my tax money is paying for their medical care while I have to also worry about paying for my own – HEY – old folks – get the hell off the government gravy train if you dislike “Socialism” so much. And no – you didn’t pay for Medicare while you worked – you payed for the previous generation – and you’ll suck more dollars from the government with bad illness than the vast majority of those old folks ever came close to putting into the system. They should be thanking those of us willing to shell the money for their care – not protesting us.

    Immigration may not matter? Wait till it starts being worked on.

    We’ve got a lot of white folks, who lack the skills to make good money in the modern economy – no one will pay them $30 an hour to bolt stuff together – they are watching their lifestyle decrease as they simply can’t keep up – and they are scared to death of anything changing because they think that they will fall further behind – when the reality is that the unless something drastic changes they will drop faster and faster as they just simply aren’t worth very much to a country that moves further towards pure Capitalism.

    But the good news it that the more the Far Right gains – the better the lifestyle will be for those of us who are well educated, have great skills for this economy, and make good living – because the more people are driven down – the less we will have to pay for those people to work and we can start decreasing their benefits since we there will be so many people who will take almost any work they can find – all together prices will be driven down and I will be able to purchase 70″ LCD tv’s for less and less every year :-)

  • kevin47

    Most of the money spent on grassroots movements (on the right or left) is centered around communications and PR. If the tea parties are illegitimate by virtue of umbrella funding, then so are union, pro-abortion and environmental protests. But unless the protesters themselves are paid to protest, I scarcely see why it matters.

    “there has been much press comment that many of these teabaggers are actually unemployed”

    Well that’s conclusive. I’ll be sure to apply the “much press comment” standard down the road.

    “and therefore, presumably in receipt of unemployment bennies which are usually labelled welfare by the party to which most of them belong”

    On account of “much press comment” about “many” tea party protesters being unemployed, we can “presume” that they are hypocrites by virtue of how they “usually” label something. Or, we could just look at the demographic information in the poll, which does not indicate a higher rate of unemployment than the public at large.

    Not that it makes any difference. Most conservatives don’t oppose unemployment outright, and there is nothing hypocritical about receiving benefits from a program you oppose in principle. I abhor our presently complicated system of tax deductions, but I take them anyway. Many wealthy liberals probably don’t think they pay enough in taxes, but they don’t voluntarily pay more.

  • kevin47

    “It is some really crazy timing that when the country was bring driven into the ditch while a white guy was President there was not one Tea Bag in sight – but as soon as the first black guy gets close to winning the White House all hell breaks loose and Tea Bags start pouring from the sky – yup – one heck of a coincidence.”

    And the change in party leadership in the White House had nothing to do with it. Right.

  • jabbermule

    ottovbvs // Apr 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    “……so all those stories about the many millions of bucks that Kochs and others have poured into Armey’s Freedom Works who’ve orchestrated all this tea party nonsense are a complete fantasy……..the money was spent in bondage clubs……are you really that naive”

    Actually, you’re the naive one…let me educate you on all things tea party:

    1) There are three separate tea party movements — the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express, and the Tea Party Nation
    2) The Tea Party Patriots have no affiliation with any party, have no official group leader, and refuse to endorse ANY candidate, Democrat OR Republican.
    3) Dick Armey is affiliated ONLY with the Tea Party Express, and latched onto the group last summer only after it had become a bona fide political force.
    4) The Tea Party Nation is led by one man — Judson Phillips of Nashville, Tenn — and has no affiliation with the Tea Party Patriots or Dick Armey and his co-opted Tea Party Express

    Armey orchestrated nothing originally, and only latched onto the Tea Party Express after it had already established itself as a genuine American political force. Sure, he’s involved now, but he certainly had NOTHING to do with founding the 3 separate, but equal, movements, and he still has NOTHING to do with the Patriots and Nation movements.

  • jabbermule

    TerryF98 // Apr 4, 2010 at 10:02 am

    “The ‘artifacts of protest’ are home-made misspelled signs put together by individual members with a stick of wood (about $2.00 at any Home Depot), along with poster board, magic markers, staples, and duct tape.”

    That’s right, Terry — all the signs are made by a bunch of illiterate white drunken spitting yahoo racist rednecks from West Virginia, Alaska, Alabama and Idaho…please keep thinking that. I like it when you libs don’t see a good old-fashioned ass-whipping coming your way.

  • kevin47

    “That’s right, Terry — all the signs are made by a bunch of illiterate white drunken spitting yahoo racist rednecks from West Virginia, Alaska, Alabama and Idaho”

    Who are funded by millionaires from smoke-filled rooms in D.C. You’d think the millionaires would demand better handwriting from their employees.

  • rbottoms

    That’s right, Terry — all the signs are made by a bunch of illiterate white drunken spitting yahoo racist rednecks from West Virginia, Alaska, Alabama and Idaho…please keep thinking that.

    Not all of them, but enough of them that we can have a lot of fun laughing at them and to irritate you in the process. Teabonics, priceless.

  • jabbermule

    rbottoms // Apr 5, 2010 at 12:37 am

    “Not all of them, but enough of them that we can have a lot of fun laughing at them and to irritate you in the process. Teabonics, priceless.”

    I don’t care if they misspell ‘plummer’ as long as they can read the word ‘Republican’ and put a check next to it on a ballot box this November.

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  • Gus

    I’ll take the Tea Party folks seriously as soon as I hear something more than empty sloganeering coming from them. “Follow the Constitution. I want my country back! Socialism! Liberty!” Yeah whatever, but WTF do you want? If you say you want lower taxes, less government, etc. be specific. What spending will you cut? Will you cut/eliminate Social Security and Medicare? Will you cut America’s military so it doesn’t account for half of the world’s military spending? Give me something coherent and specific, or I will continue to think you’re a joke.

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