Progressives have long been skeptical of “grassroots” movement born with a rant on corporate media and promoted by folks like former House majority leader, Dick Army, and a bevy of right-wing billionaires. But that hasn’t stopped the right-wing from claiming the Tea Party is “surprising new political force” out to upset the status quo. So which is it? Surprise, surprise!
Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously — isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.
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.
Fair enough, progressives have long known that the Teapublican “movement” was simply a rebranding of the same ideas that got us into the current mess, but what else unites these folks? Yes, the survey confirms they are “overwhelmingly white” and had “a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president,” but those aren’t the strongest predictors:
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.
Taxed Enough Already? More like Bad Religion!
Can’t you see what we believe in, all our thoughts, all our reasons,
Pursuit of life and liberty and happiness we cannot see?
Speak of truth with a mighty voice, but politics are your real choice.
Hire men to change the law, protect and serve with one small flaw.
Voice of God is government. The voice of God is government.
Voice of God is government. In God we trust, sinners repent!