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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

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