Aca­demics’ pa­pers take dim view of tea par­ty­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Two years af­ter it burst onto the po­lit­i­cal scene, the tea party is get­ting a crit­i­cal eye from po­lit­i­cal sci­ence aca­demics who say the move­ment’s ad­her­ents are knowl­edge­able and re­li­giously de­vout — but hyp­o­crit­i­cal and more likely to be mo­ti­vated by “racial re­sent­ment.”

Gath­er­ing over the La­bor Day week­end in Seat­tle for the an­nual Amer­i­can Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence As­so­ci­a­tion con­ven­tion, sev­eral pro­fes­sors ar­gued that tea par ty Repub­li­cans are more likely than other vot­ers and more likely than most oth­ers in the GOP to har­bor racial hos­til­ity, as judged by their an­swers in a broad pre-elec­tion sur­vey ad­min­is­tered in Oc­to­ber.

“Tea Party ac­tivists have de­nied ac­cu­sa­tions that their move­ment is racist, and there is noth­ing in­trin­si­cally racist about op­pos­ing ‘big govern­ment’ or clean-en­ergy leg­is­la­tion or health care re­form. But it is clear that the move­ment is more ap­peal­ing to peo­ple who are un­sym­pa­thetic to blacks and who pre­fer a harder line on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion than it is to other Amer­i­cans,” Gary C. Ja­cob­son, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego, wrote in his pa­per, “The Pres­i­dent, the Tea Party, and Vot­ing Be­hav­ior in 2010.”

In an­other pa­per, Alan I. Abramowitz, a pro­fes­sor at Emory Univer­sity, crunched the numbers from the Amer­i­can National Elec­tion Stud­ies’ Oc­to­ber 2010 pre-elec­tion sur­vey and drew up a por­trait of tea party vot­ers that found they are more likely than other Repub­li­cans to be reg­is­tered to vote, to have con­tacted a pub­lic of­fi­cial or to have do­nated to a cam­paign. They also are gen­er­ally older, wealth­ier and more likely to be evan­gel­i­cal.

Like Mr. Ja­cob­son, Mr. Abramowitz also said they were more likely to har­bor racial re­sent­ment, which he judged based on their an­swers to ques­tions such as whether blacks could suc­ceed as well as whites if they “would only try harder,” and whether they agreed with the state­ment that Ir­ish, Ital­ians and Jews over­came prej­u­dice and “blacks should do the same with­out any spe­cial fa­vors.”

Mr. Abramowitz said tea party sup­port­ers were sub­stan­tially more likely than other vot­ers to ques­tion how much ef­fort black Amer­i­cans are mak­ing to ad­vance them­selves, ver­sus be­ing held back by so­cial fac­tors.

“Tea Party sup­port­ers dis­played high lev­els of racial re­sent­ment and held very neg­a­tive opin­ions about Pres­i­dent Obama, com­pared with the rest of the pub­lic and even other Repub­li­cans,” Mr. Abramowitz wrote. “In a mul­ti­vari­ate anal­y­sis, racial re- sent­ment and dis­like of Barack Obama, along with con­ser­vatism, emerged as the most im­por­tant fac­tors con­tribut­ing to sup­port for the Tea Party move­ment.”

More than a dozen pa­pers at the con­fer­ence peered into the tea par ty, the move­ment’s philo­soph­i­cal un­der­pin­nings and its role in the 2010 elec­tions. Ti­tles in­cluded “Civil Rights and LGBTQ Scape­goats in the Tea Party Move­ment,” “Pas­sion­ate Pa­tri­o­tism: Gender and the Dis­course of Anger in the Tea Party Move­ment” and Mr. Abramowitz’s “Par­ti­san Po­lar­iza­tion and the Rise of the Tea Party Move­ment.”

Tea party lead­ers laughed off the scrutiny and chuck­led when they heard the names of the pa­pers.

“This is good. You’re mak­ing my day,” said Mark Meck­ler, co­founder of Tea Party Pa­tri­ots.

“Sta­tis­tics show that the vast num­ber of folks that are in the world of academia are lib­er­als,” he said af­ter col­lect­ing him­self. “Lib­er­als don’t like the tea party move­ment. I don’t think that’s news.”

“From my per­spec­tive, they’ve lit­er­ally be­come a car­i­ca­ture of them­selves,” he said of the academy, adding that there are a “few ex­cep­tions.”

The aca­demics posed a wide breadth of ques­tions, but a num­ber of them delved into what makes tea party vot­ers tick. Oth­ers ex­plored the move­ment’s phi­los­o­phy and ques­tioned its in­ter­nal con­sis­tency.

Christo­pher S. Parker, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Washington, put the tea party’s pro­claimed be­liefs in lim­ited govern­ment to the test on three ques­tions: whether they sup­ported lim­its on free speech, whether they be­lieved in in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion and whether they wanted broader po­lice pow­ers for racial pro­fil­ing.

Us­ing his own sur­vey data, he con­cluded that tea party sup­port­ers were more likely than the gen­eral pub­lic to be­lieve speech should be free of re­stric­tions and were just as likely to sup­port in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion of sus­pected ter­ror­ists, but were more will­ing for po­lice to use racial pro­fil­ing to stop crimes.

“The hy­poth­e­sis would be if they were re­ally just about free­dom, they would be un­abashedly, rel­a­tive to other groups, in fa­vor of free­dom or sup­port­ing civil lib­er­ties. One would think that would be the case across the board, but that’s not the case,” Mr. Parker said in an in­ter­view.

In his re­search, Mr. Parker con­trolled for other fac­tors and said the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic

“Tea Party sup­port­ers dis­played high lev­els of racial re­sent­ment and held very neg­a­tive opin­ions about Pres­i­dent Obama, com­pared with the rest of the pub­lic and even other Repub­li­cans,” Alan I. Abramowitz, a pro­fes­sor at Emor y Univer­sity, wrote. “In a mul­ti­vari­ate anal­y­sis, racial re­sent­ment and dis­like of Barack Obama, along with conser vatism, emerged as the most im­por­tant fac­tors con­tribut­ing to sup­port for the Tea Party move­ment.”

isn’t ed­u­ca­tion level or class or racism, but rather that tea par ty sup­por ters are more likely to be “re­ac­tionary” con­ser­va­tives who strongly op­pose change.

“It’s not about law and or­der, it’s not about ed­u­ca­tion, it’s not even about racism as racism, per se. And it’s not com­pletely tied into race. It’s this dif­fuse idea that our coun­try is slip­ping away from us,” he said.

Mr. Parker said his re­search found that tea party sup­port­ers were sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to be in­volved in the po­lit­i­cal process and, as such, will be a force within the GOP.

Other aca­demics saw other mech­a­nisms at work. Emily Mc­Clin­tock Ekins, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Los An­ge­les, said tea par­ty­ers have more faith in the fair ness of cap­i­tal­ism, which she said could ex­plain their at­ti­tudes on race.

“This makes it less sur­pris­ing that nearly all Tea Partiers be­lieve that hard work, rather than luck, drives suc­cess. This might also ex­plain their lower lev­els of racial em­pa­thy, as they are less aware for how op­por­tu­nity may be dif­fer­ent for par­tic­u­lar groups of peo­ple,” she wrote in a work­ing draft pa­per.

In his pa­per, Ni­col C. Rae, a pro­fes­sor at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity, said the tea party move­ment rose as a re­ac­tion to the fail­ures of Repub­li­cans when they con­trolled most of the levers of the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches from 2001 through 2006, yet over­saw mas­sive govern­ment ex­pan­sion.

“Ge­orge W. Bush had cam­paigned as the heir of Ron­ald Rea­gan, but his pres­i­dency yielded a huge new govern­ment bureau­cracy in the form of the new De­par tment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, and a mas­sive new fed­eral en­ti­tle­ment — the Medi­care Pre­scrip­tion Drug pro­gram,” he wrote, say­ing it wasn’t sur­pris­ing that con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans re­belled against that tra­jec­tory.

Yet an­other pa­per ques­tions the con­ven­tional wis­dom that tea party power pro­pelled the GOP to its 2010 elec­toral vic­to­ries.

“We failed to find any sys­tem­atic ev­i­dence that the Tea Party was re­spon­si­ble for the Repub­li­can suc­cess in 2010,” pro­fes­sor Jon R. Bond and sev­eral col­leagues wrote in their anal­y­sis. “In­stead, we find that vari­ables long cited by schol­ars of con­gres­sional elec­tions — in par­tic­u­lar, the in­cum­bent’s pre­vi­ous elec­toral per­for­mance, the nor­mal party vote in the district, can­di­date spend­ing, and chal­lenger ex­pe­ri­ence — best ex­plain the district-level out­comes of the 2010 elec­tions.”

The au­thors of that anal­y­sis said the tea party did help na­tion­al­ize the elec­tion by high­light­ing spend­ing and the growth of govern­ment.


Com­ing clean: Wear­ing a dunce cap, Don Bahl at­tends the Tea Par ty Ex­press tour kick-off in Napa, Calif. on Aug. 27. Mr. Bahl said he voted for Pres­i­dent Obama in the last elec­tion but didn’t get the change he wanted.

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