Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-mp689 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-19T22:48:44.067Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Who Wants to Have a Tea Party? The Who, What, and Why of the Tea Party Movement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 September 2012

Kevin Arceneaux
Temple University
Stephen P. Nicholson
University of California, Merced


In the wake of the 2008 election, disgruntled conservatives organized opposition to President Obama's policies under a new movement dubbed the Tea Party. As an emerging force in American politics, we seek to understand who supports the Tea Party and the political attitudes these individuals hold. Using a nationally representative survey of respondents during the 2010 midterm elections, we examine whether the emerging narrative surrounding the Tea Party is accurate. The survey included a novel embedded experiment designed to investigate claims that animosity toward racial minorities drives Tea Party opposition to welfare. We find support for the contention that the Tea Party is predominately white, male, conservative, and strongly opposed to tax increases. Tea Party supporters, however, are not simply libertarians. In spite of appeals to freedom and liberty common in Tea Party rhetoric, a strong authoritarian pulse exists among its most ardent supporters. Furthermore, although we find evidence that racial resentment colors Tea Party members' judgments about government aid to the poor, racial animus does not appear to be the primary force behind their opposition to government aid. Lastly, we uncover some evidence of heterogeneity within the movement, with a small minority of Tea Party supporters voicing less-extreme political attitudes and evincing a rejection of negative racial stereotypes.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Schaffner, Brian F.. 2011. Re-Examining the Validity of Different Survey Modes for Measuring Public Opinion in the U.S.: Findings from a 2010 Multi-Mode Comparison. Working paper.Google Scholar
Barreto, Matt, Cooper, Betsy L., Gonzalez, Benjamin, Parker, Christopher S., and Towler, Christopher. 2011. “The Tea Party in the Age of Obama: Mainstream Conservatism or Out-Group Anxiety?Political Power and Social Theory 22 (1): 105–37.Google Scholar
Blanz, Volker, and Vetter, Thomas. 1999. “A Morphable Model for the Synthesis of 3D Faces.” In Proceedings of the 26th Annual Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, 187–94.Google Scholar
Brader, Ted, Valentino, Nicholas A., and Suhay, Elizabeth. 2008. “What Triggers Public Opposition to Immigration? Anxiety, Group Cues, and Immigration Threat.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 959–78.Google Scholar
Edsall, Thomas Byrne, and Edsall, Mary D.. 1991. Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Farber, David. 2010. The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Frank, Thomas. 2004. What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
Gilens, Martin. 2000. Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Glenn, Brian J., and Teles, Steven M., eds. 2009. Conservatism and American Political Development. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Hofstadter, Richard. 1965. The Paranoid Style in American Politics. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
Karpowitz, Christopher F., Monson, J. Quin, Patterson, Kelly D., and Pope, Jeremy C.. 2011. “Tea Time in America? The Impact of the Tea Party Movement on the 2010 Midterm Election.” PS: Political Science & Politics 44 (2): 303–09.Google Scholar
Kinder, Donald R., and Sanders, Lynn M.. 1996. Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Kuklinski, James H., Sniderman, Paul M., Knight, Kathleen, Piazza, Thomas, Tetlock, Philip E., Lawrence, Gordon, and Mellers, Barbara. 1997. “Racial Prejudice and Attitudes toward Affirmative Action.” American Journal of Political Science 41: 402–19.Google Scholar
Lakoff, George. 2009. “Empathy, Sotomayor, and Democracy: The Conservative Stealth Strategy.” Huffington Post: [posted May 30; accessed April 7, 2011].Google Scholar
Malhotra, Neil, and Krosnick, Jon A.. 2007. “The Effect of Survey Mode and Sampling on Inferences about Political Attitudes and Behavior: Comparing the 2000 and 2004 ANES to Internet Surveys with Nonprobability Samples.” Political Analysis 15 (3): 286323.Google Scholar
McClosky, Herbert, and Zaller, John. 1984. The American Ethos: Public Attitudes toward Capitalism and Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Parker, Christopher. 2010. “2010 Multi-State Survey of Race and Politics.” University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality. Scholar
Parker, Christopher S., and Barreto, Matt A.. forthcoming. The Paranoid Style Revisited: Support for the Tea Party and Contemporary American Politics.Google Scholar
Petersen, Michael Bang, Slothuus, Rune, Stubager, Rune, and Togeby, Lise. 2010. “Deservingness versus Values in Public Opinion on Welfare: The Automaticity of the Deservingness Heuristic.” European Journal of Political Research 50 (1): 2452.Google Scholar
Raban, Jonathan. 2010. “At the Tea Party.” The New York Review of Books: March 25.Google Scholar
Schwartz, Joseph M. 2009. The Future of Democratic Equality: Rebuilding Social Solidarity in a Fragmented America. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Sears, David O., and Henry, P. J.. 2005. “Over Thirty Years Later: A Contemporary Look at Symbolic Racism.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 37: 95150.Google Scholar
Singular Inversions. 2006. FaceGen 3.1 Full SDK Documentation. http://facegen.comGoogle Scholar
Sniderman, Paul M., and Carmines, Edward G.. 1997. Reaching Beyond Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Todorov, Alexander, Said, Chris P., Egnell, Andrew D., and Oosterhof, Nikolaas N.. 2008. “Understanding Evaluation of Faces on Social Dimensions.” Trends in Cognitive Science 12 (12): 455–60.Google Scholar
Uhlmann, Eric Luis, Poehlman, T. Andrew, and Bargh, John A.. 2009. “American Moral Exceptionalism.” In Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification, ed. Jost, John T., Kay, Aaron C., and Thorisdottir, Hulda, 2752. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Williamson, Vanessa, Skocpol, Theda, and Coggin, John. 2011. “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” Perspectives on Politics 9 (1): 2543.Google Scholar