The New York Times ran a scathing Op-Ed piece today called “Crashing the Tea Party” that examines the political makeup of voters who identify themselves with the Tea Party. Using longitudinal polling data that looked at voters’ political attitudes during 2006 and 2011, the writers found that the Tea Party was not – Spoiler Alert! – a spontaneously generated movement.
Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.
What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.
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.
Besides providing somewhat empirical backing to what’s already been obvious for the past three years, this article should be received as a good reminder to the media and the public that the Tea Party is not grassroots. Rather, it’s a wealthy donor backed Republican creation that’s supposed to seem like a grassroots small government movement in order to trick unsuspecting Conservatives and Independents to vote for candidates against their interests.