The Tea Party People

23 Apr

There have been several efforts made in recent weeks to figure out who exactly makes up the tea party constituency.  With all the studies and polls and demographic research happening, you’d think we stumbled across a rare species of two headed turtles or the mysterious and never-before-photographed pipsquack bird.

Previous polls have been conducted traditionally with phone banks and surveys.  However, the tea party is primarily organized online and it makes sense to measure activity online.  If for nothing else to sample the data in a new way.  And not with some easily manipulated online poll, either.

PBS has conducted an exhaustive online search of tea party directories, Facebook pages, and other social networks to measure the location of most tea party members.  The results are not scientific, but they are pretty interesting.

First, here is the map drawn from the total number of active tea party participants in the country, broken out by county.  Areas shaded in green are those with the higher concentrations of tea party members.

Next up is a sampling of tea party participants per 10,000 residents in any given county.  For every 10,000 people in Erie County, 2 people are actively involved in the tea party.  Careful, one might be right behind you!

The darkest areas indicate the “highest” level of participation with 10 in 10,000 residents being registered or active online.  If this is a movement, I think Dale Volker has had larger ones during his morning grumpy.

What is pretty clear from this sampling is that the primary centers of the tea party are in boom town counties which suffered the greatest hits during the housing crash and recession.  The other data point of note is that the areas with the highest concentration of tea party membership appear to be very solid republican counties in red states.  I know, I’m shocked as well.

Aside from all of this ongoing research and demography, there is pretty clear evidence that the tea party movement isn’t anything especially new.  It is a loose confederation of right wing citizens.  Traditional “Ron Paul” libertarians (who have been singing this song for years on the margins of American politics) make up the original core of the movement.

However, after Sarah Palin scared most of the fearful neo-cons that the Islamofascistsocialist black man was coming to take their guns and liberty, those traditional libertarians now have company.  The neo-conservative, Christian base has decided to bully their way into the Thomas Jefferson tent at oppressedwhitemanteapartypalooza.

Tea Party supporters are likely to be older, white and male. Forty percent are age 55 and over, compared with 32 percent of all poll respondents; just 22 percent are under the age of 35, 79 percent are white, and 61 percent are men. Many are also Christian fundamentalists, with 44 percent identifying themselves as “born-again,” compared with 33 percent of all respondents.

Shorter version of the above story, McCain voters make up the majority of tea party participants.  The same people who cheered on Sarah Palin at rallies in 2008, watched Sean Hannity’s nightly expose on Jermeiah Wright, and told John McCain that Obama was a muslim, etc. are all loyal members of this new “movement”.  It’s not a movement.  It’s the same old Republican base with new and improved packaging, tri-cornered hats and a crippling lack of irony.

What makes it a political force is that they have one of the world’s largest media companies promoting their agenda on America’s top cable news network, in The Wall Street Journal, in The New York Post and on the top syndicated radio programs and widely read websites like Drudge, Breitbart, Fox properties, etc..  Because they have control of such a significant stake of U.S. media, they are driving the conversation on other networks and outlets.  Fomenting the anger and fear as far and wide as possible that the black man and his merry band of half-assed socialists are coming for your freedom.

Now that anger over the healthcare reform bill is dying down, the economy is slowly improving and infighting amongst the loose libertarian/Ne0-Con tea party groups is beginning, will they be a force in November?  Can their media machine sustain the roar of last summer and this spring?

I suspect they will be…a force for Republicans to deal with in the primaries.  They’ll slice off votes from moderate Republicans, challenge long time incumbents and generally pull the larger party to the right.  See, Paladino, Carl.

When the tea party fringe is introduced to the rest of society and a wider demographic base of voters that is gradually shifting younger, more diverse and better educated…their platform will go over like Paladino’s horse porn in church.

If Democrats can play to the central themes and appeal to centrists and moderates, I suspect Officer Barbrady might have the best advice on how to deal with the tea party “movement”.

6 Responses to “The Tea Party People”

  1. Brian Castner April 23, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Interesting. Two notes though:

    1) I guess the tea partiers are a fringe after all. That has been a topic of discussion on WNYMedia for the past 16 months or so: are tea partiers the crazy end of the spectrum on the right, or a significant chunk of the electorate and what’s left of the Republican party. Evidence has been contradictory. I’d say the 2009 elections (Mass, VA, NJ, and NY North Country dumping of the traditional R cadidate) indicate that tea partiers had a significant chunk of power, and were worthy of consideration. This data shows they are the burned out remnants of plenty of movements that have been around the block. In the end, like normal, what you see the tea party says more about you than them. If you (generic you) insist they ARE the Republican party, that indicates more about your own partisanship than theirs. Note: Chris, even you use the term “fringe.”

    2) I still need to stick up for McCain (maybe the old McCain now) – I think labeling the tea party as the McCain voting block, even if technically partially true. Yes, tea partiers voted for McCain. And Moveon.org and DailyKos voters voted for Kerry. But neither national candidate represented that constituency well. McCain was the imperfect cadidate of a party he no longer had that much in common with. And his creation of Sarah Palin was more “Dr Frankenstein – what have I done!!” than intentional. It would be interesting to hear his honest take on all that when he isn’t running for relelection someday.

  2. Adama D. Brown April 23, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Brian, the relevant term here is “force multiplier.” In military terms, a force multiplier is something like an excellent supply system, or superior weapons, or close air support, which allow a small number of guys to take on a much more numerous force.

    When it comes to things like Republican primaries, the TP people have a force multiplier on their side: the low turnout that usually accompanies such elections makes the highly motivated tea party people a much larger block of the Republican electorate. Plus you have to remember that while not many may actively participate, a lot more Reps may agree with the tea partiers. So it’s not at all a stretch that they’ll be an ongoing force internally within the Republican party.

    Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey? Not so much. In Mass, the simple fact is that they thought they’d have it in a walk, and they ran a candidate who felt entitled to parachute into that seat, complete with a month-long vacation before the election. Virginia, the Dem candidate had far less name recognition than the Republican, and ran a bruising primary while the Rep was off raising gobs of money. And in New Jersey, Corzine managed to get himself in all sorts of trouble with regard to the state budget, actually managing to shut down the state government over his fight with the legislature. All politics really is local.

    • Brian Castner April 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

      Done contradicting yourself yet? As a veteran and actual “force multiplier,” your anology is off. The Tea Party is no more a force multiplier than Unions are for Dems. Yes, they turn out more often. But if that is the case, why dismiss their impact on 3 of the 4 statewide elections since their formation? Pick one. The Tea Party is a rapid base without the self awareness to realize they are old thoughts in a new bag. The question on this site has been: how big are they really? Chris’ data mining adds a new twist, as the previous meme has been “Welcome to the new Republican Party!” If that’s the case, then I guess South Dakota is suddenly a lot less Republican.

      • Adama D. Brown April 27, 2010 at 3:19 am #

        Brian, the phrase “force multiplier” was intended to reference the factors which make the TPers more potent in a Republican primary than the general election, not the Tea Party itself. Small, highly motivated groups have a disproportionate impact on low-turnout elections, and primaries are always low turnout. General elections are an order of magnitude less so. If you want to talk about general elections, what about the fact that Dems are five for five in House special elections since 2008? It’s because they had good candidates who ran good campaigns. As I said: politics are local.

  3. Rob April 25, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Imagine if the tea baggers were black.

    A useful counter-factual.

  4. jesse April 28, 2010 at 10:16 am #

    It’s funny to see Chris and Alan get so worked up about tea partiers, considering the pathetic excuse for a political party they’d prefer.

    Maybe they should start up a “Coffee Party” to try and reform the left side of the aisle.

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