Posted by Brad @ 12:13 pm on April 19th 2010

The Two Camps of the Tea Party: Paulites and Palinites

The Politico exit poll of the April 15th Tea Party protests in D.C. roughly match my own impressions of the movement, as I’ve been sketching out here the last few weeks.

The results, however, suggest a distinct fault line that runs through the tea party activist base, characterized by two wings led by the politicians who ranked highest when respondents were asked who ďbest exemplifies the goals of the tea party movementĒ ó former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a former GOP presidential candidate.

Palin, who topped the list with 15 percent, speaks for the 43 percent of those polled expressing the distinctly conservative view that government does too much, while also saying that it needs to promote traditional values.

Paulís thinking is reflected by an almost identical 42 percent who said government does too much but should not try to promote any particular set of values ó the hallmarks of libertarians. He came in second to Palin with 12 percent.

When asked to choose from a list of candidates for president in 2012, Palin and Paul also finished one-two ó with Palin at 15 percent and Paul at 14 percent.

Interestingly, Tea Partiers track much less socially conservative than regular Republican voters. According to a different poll, 3/5s favor legal recognition of same-sex marriages, for instance (more great findings from that poll (NYT/CBS) can be found here). Also interesting: Ron Paul gets a 50% favorability rating from this crowd, beating Sarah Palin by 10. The only figure more popular than Ron Paul with the Tea Party crowd is Glenn Beck.

13 Comments »

  1. Brad, do you really believe that this exit poll of protesters in DC on Tax Day is in any way representative of the Tea Party as a whole? Common sense would argue that it’s the more activist core of the movement and based on other metrics, such as Ron Paul’s showing at CPAC or general support among more activist types, he’s going to poll stronger in the exit poll than at large.

    I think your statement that 3/5ths favor legal recognition of same-sex marriage is misleading. If you look at the NYT poll you’re referring to, Tea Partiers are more likely than the rest of the population to oppose gay marriage and support no legal recognition. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/04/14/us/politics/20100414-tea-party-poll-graphic.html?ref=politics#tab=6

    You’re combining two categories, gay marriage and civil unions, to argue that they are more socially liberal but ignoring that the general public as a whole supports gay marriage or civil unions at a higher rate.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/19/2010 @ 9:07 pm

  2. Last point first: I wasn’t comparing them to the general public, but to Republican voters, in which case they do rate higher in “legal recognition of same sex marriages”, which is the wording I used.

    First point: No, I don’t think it’s representative per se, although how do you define what a Tea Partier is? Is it people who “identify” as Tea Partiers? Or is it people that show up at Tea Party rallies? Both have their problems, but I would argue that the entire meme of “Tea Partier” is by definition built on its “activist core”. In other words, definitionally a Tea Partier is an activist. I would say the problem is less their activism and more there geography (i.e. it’s probably fair to say it’s a sample of mid-Atlantic Tea Partiers).

    However, by any metric, and according to any poll I have yet seen, as well their own stated agenda (see my last post), Tea Partiers are, by and large, less concerned with / taken by social conservatism than your garden variety Republican grassroots, a point I do find significant. I think that’s worth pointing out, especially given the lazy characterization of them by most liberals. This, btw, is not an endorsement of them—I’m not really onboard—but it’s worth noting.

    Comment by Brad — 4/19/2010 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Brad,

    I actually read your post too fast and missed that you were specifically comparing Tea Party support for some type of legal recognition to other Republicans, not the general public. Sorry about that.

    I think you have concentric circles of activism and going to DC is clearly an inner circle compared to a local Tea Party rally or voting in an election. I think as you go into the inner circles you come up with more and more libertarian-leaning activists, not just when looking at the Tea Party but when looking at the GOP as a whole.

    Finally, on social conservatism, there is less concern with social issues at the moment but it’s on top of generally socially conservative views. Which I view as a sleeper issue. Fox News hasn’t had to activate concern about social issues yet because the fight has focused on health care so much.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/20/2010 @ 8:06 am

  4. “3/5s favor legal recognition of same-sex marriages”
    I think this is where plenty of people would take the wrong meaning, becaus they don’t favor what you suggest they favor. Only 16% favor gay “marriage.” You get close to a 3/5 figure only when you add in civil unions. 3/5s favor legal recognition of same-sex civil unions. Not trying to be pedantic, but I think this is a pretty distinct difference.

    Comment by Jack — 4/20/2010 @ 9:06 am

  5. Well, it may sound pedantic to you, but that’s not exactly me bringing in a bunch of obtuse word usage to a debate. The debate about gay marriage has always been three-pronged: marriage, marriage-except-in-name, no marriage. The general resting point on same sex marriage has always been the middle (civil unions: NOT generally gay marriage). And the hardcore social conservative message has always been: no legal recognition of any kind (see: the six states that amended their constitutions, the FMA, Virginia law, the Republican party platform, et al).

    Back to FD:

    I think you have concentric circles of activism and going to DC is clearly an inner circle compared to a local Tea Party rally or voting in an election. I think as you go into the inner circles you come up with more and more libertarian-leaning activists, not just when looking at the Tea Party but when looking at the GOP as a whole.

    Maybe, but even that’s pretty significant. If the Tea Part is indeed driven by a core engine of libertarian activists, I would think that would be a trend worth getting a bead on. Myself, I don’t think I really believe that…what I think is that the Tea Partiers lean more libertarian than the Republican grassroots at large. A position relatively borne out by what imperfect and messy data we have. But it’s messy, btw, only because the movement is messy. If we were talking evangelicals, as with the last few cycles, getting a read would be (relatively) easy. But this new thing called the Tea Party appears to be defined solely NOT by how people vote but by that ring of people who are motivated enough to show up at rallies.

    More to the point: if we have to suffer a myriad of assumptions about the character and beliefs of the Tea Party because of the even MORE limited sample of the dozens of people who have shown up to Tea Party rallies with racist signs or spouting Birther nonsense on the stage, why not show up to those same rallies and ask all of them what they think? I would think the methodology here would actually be moving outward in your concentric circles conception from what we are used to when getting our information about who the Tea Party is and what they stand for.

    Finally, on social conservatism, there is less concern with social issues at the moment but itís on top of generally socially conservative views. Which I view as a sleeper issue. Fox News hasnít had to activate concern about social issues yet because the fight has focused on health care so much.

    That’s an assumption not borne out by the evidence, for two reasons. One: I’m not talking about enthusiasm coefficients here, but rather, the data points on what these people believe. Presumably, even if it’s a sleeper issue respondents would still be truthful if the majority of them, say, didn’t want any legal recognition for gay marriage? Secondly, if we are talking about enthusiasm, I think it’s worth noting that the Tea Party was actually ahead of the curve on fiscal issues—it began, remember, with the bailouts, before there was a very strong constituency for the anti-bailout position (indeed, as with the Iraq war, you heard a lot more of the anti-folks after the heat of the debate than during). If these people are just waiting around for ANY issue for Fox News to animate them on, where have they been in the other 12+ years of Fox existence? Why were they only activated when financial and fiscal issues came to the fore? Why are they supporting guys like Scott Brown? Why was Burt Stupak and the abortion debate, ginned up hugely by FNC and more mainstream conservative outlets like NRO, not something we saw much activism organize around from the Tea Party side of things (indeed, it ranks last or near-last on their list of health care concerns)?

    I’m going to write down my long form thoughts on the Tea Party movement at some point, but the bottom line is I think a lot of us were waiting around for the Republican base to get back to their roots and cast off the partisan hackery of the Bush years, and reinvent themselves again organized around small government, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionalism, rather than national security, executive authority, and social conservatism. Well, this Tea Party thing sure ain’t pretty, and most of us are rightly skeptical, but it strikes me that it may be more or less the growing pains of exactly what we had been hoping for all along. That sort of transition was never going to occur clean or as pristine as any of us, in our heads, would have imagined it, but here you have 16% of the American public organized under an activist base agitating for small government, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionalism, and being willing to take on GOP membership as much if not more than just barking at low-hanging fruit liberals. For a guy like me that’s been waiting for the conservative movement to get its soul back, you can understand why I want to step back from the surface weirdness of it all and actually try to get a bead on what’s going on.

    Comment by Brad — 4/20/2010 @ 9:35 am

  6. Reason reports on this poll as well, and although they do a better job of caveating than I have, their conclusion is roughly the same.

    There are regional differences as well, and I’d love to see similar surveys conducted at other protests around the country; I suspect the Tea Parties in Utah will be more Palinite in orientation, while a New Hampshire demo is likely to be more Paulian. Finally, it’s important to remember that there are gradations of opinion here, with Paul and Palin serving as symbols representing the libertarian and conservative ends of the spectrum but with many ralliers falling somewhere in-between.

    All that said: Even if the proportions in this poll turn out to be atypical, all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that the categories it identifies are the strongest segments within the movement. If there’s a lesson here for outside observers, it’s that it’s unwise to generalize about Tea Party opinion as though the protesters have identical platforms. There is more than one current in this sea.

    It is, admittedly, shorthand for a movement that is nearly impossible to peg down at all, but I think it’s a valuable shorthand nonetheless.

    Comment by Brad — 4/20/2010 @ 12:06 pm

  7. Brad,

    I think that everyone, unless they just hate the movement out of hand and refuse to take it seriously, has to admit that the core of the Tea Party in its birth was libertarian activists angry at the corporatist collusion of Wall Street and Washington.

    The problem is that as the movement grew and developed the attention of the conservative media, it’s been flooded with your run of the mill angry conservatives.

    At its core, its absolute core of activists at the Tax Day rally, it seems to be 50-50 between Paul and Palin. But as you move out to include the 20% or so of the population that expresses some support of another for the Tea Party, that ratio shifts significantly in Palin’s favor.

    That’s the problem I see for the Tea Party. For it to have a real political impact, I judge it on how it motivates people to vote. Not who it turns out to rallies. And right now it’s doing more to energize Palinites than convert people to Paulites.

    I do disagree, however, with your claim that the Tea Party was ahead of the curve on fiscal issues. I don’t remember Tea Party rallies during the original bailout vote. I remember them once Obama took office.

    I agree it’s hard to figure the Tea Party movement out. As you point out, the abortion issue ranked low on the poll you linked to. But number three and pretty high up there was protecting Medicare! And even with abortion dead last they seemed to be to the right of the rest of the population on the issue.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 4/20/2010 @ 8:58 pm

  8. Well, it may sound pedantic to you, but thatís not exactly me bringing in a bunch of obtuse word usage to a debate. The debate about gay marriage has always been three-pronged: marriage, marriage-except-in-name, no marriage. The general resting point on same sex marriage has always been the middle (civil unions: NOT generally gay marriage). And the hardcore social conservative message has always been: no legal recognition of any kind (see: the six states that amended their constitutions, the FMA, Virginia law, the Republican party platform, et al).

    I’m having trouble parsing you here. Are you defending your original characterization of Tea Partiers as 3/5s in support of gay marriage based on the idea that in the gay marriage debate, the middle ground is civil unions? I don’t get this, you can’t claim widespread support for something (gay marriage) simply be redifining what that something is (gay marriage = civil unions). 3/5 of the Tea Partiers do not support gay marriage. They support civil unions. It is a distinct difference. Admitting this does not require that we condemn the TPers as social conservative extremists.

    If these people are just waiting around for ANY issue for Fox News to animate them on, where have they been in the other 12+ years of Fox existence? Why were they only activated when financial and fiscal issues came to the fore?

    Gee, I can’t think of anything else that occured in 2008/2009 that might have suddently animated tea partiers. Not a thing.

    Seriously. I would throw this right back at you: Where were the TPers during the period of financial irresponsibilty and growth of central government claims to power from 2000-2008? Where were they as our deficit soared and as Medicare Part D was passed? I don’t know how you can use the non-existence of TPers during the Bush years as some sort of evidience in support of TPers being non-partisan libertarianish small government types. It would seem to me that the explosion of the movement after Bush supports the counter argument.

    Comment by Jack — 4/21/2010 @ 9:45 am

  9. Iím having trouble parsing you here. Are you defending your original characterization of Tea Partiers as 3/5s in support of gay marriage based on the idea that in the gay marriage debate, the middle ground is civil unions? I donít get this, you canít claim widespread support for something (gay marriage) simply be redifining what that something is (gay marriage = civil unions). 3/5 of the Tea Partiers do not support gay marriage. They support civil unions. It is a distinct difference.

    Civil unions OR same sex marriage = legal recognition for same-sex marriages. I really wasn’t trying to get cute with my language there – I meant it precisely. There are any number of ways you can parse the gay marriage debate – “support same sex marriage”, or “don’t support same sex marriage”, for instance (which is what you’re stuck on). In that case, “civil unions” would fall in the “don’t support same sex marriage” category—roped in with people who think all gays are sodomites who should be jailed.

    The line I was trying to demarcate was, roughly, “anti-gay” or “not anti-gay”. So, supporting civil unions would be roped in with supporting marriage equality, both separate from what might be termed the “hard social conservative” position, which would be no legal recognition of any kind.

    Anyway, we’re getting a bit lost in the weeds here. Point is, Tea Partiers, it seems, are less socially conservative as a bloc than the baseline Republican voter (though perhaps still less than your average American). I find that worth noting. interesting.

    Seriously. I would throw this right back at you: Where were the TPers during the period of financial irresponsibilty and growth of central government claims to power from 2000-2008? Where were they as our deficit soared and as Medicare Part D was passed? I donít know how you can use the non-existence of TPers during the Bush years as some sort of evidience in support of TPers being non-partisan libertarianish small government types. It would seem to me that the explosion of the movement after Bush supports the counter argument.

    Interestingly, Jonah Goldberg just wrote a piece on this that I don’t like all that much but which the thesis for I roughly agree with: “A Delayed Bush Backlash“.

    Now, whether the fact that there was no Tea Party during Bush is an indicator of rank partisan hypocrisy or rather an evolving political landscape that eventually crossed a threshold is in the eye of the beholder. I would add that even a lot of Ron Paul activists I met had actually been Bush voters in 2004, which shocked me, but perhaps shouldn’t – an awful lot of libertarians are jaded Republicans. I’d also add that data point that one of the earliest findings about Tea Partiers is that, generally speaking, they were/are “new” political activists—i.e. their Tea Party agitating was their first excursion into the political process. And for that matter that there were at least some size-of-government critics during 2000-2008, though not in the mainstream much (much to my constant chagrin). I would also add again, if your contention is that Tea Party is just Obama hatred, that the first, most notable, and most frequent electoral targets of the Tea Party have actually been mainstream Republicans – if partisan obstinacy or Obama derangement syndrome were the core of it, why would so much of it focus around Charlie Crist or NY-23 etc? But those are just mitigators.

    I guess for me, I have no problem believing that the era of government from really 1998-2009 FORMED Tea Partiers, in the same way that the 80s formed Contract with America Republicans or the 70s formed Moral Majority Republicans. The question you have to answer is to what extent activists of today are responsible for the political environment of yesterday. For me, I think that question only makes sense on an individual level or, occasionally, an organization one. But like I said, why is it a stretch to imagine that Jonah Goldberg has a point when he notes that in many ways the Tea Partiers seem like a cathartic exorcising of demons from the Bush years as much as rank partisan hypocrites?

    Comment by Brad — 4/21/2010 @ 10:23 am

  10. Re teh gay: I am perfectly willing to admit the core finding: TPers are polling less socially conservative, i.e., more tolerant on gay marriage/unions than GOPers. Condider it stipulated. I just think it is somewhere between overly convenient and disingenious to characterize them as you did, and then justify it with an entirely arbitrary two pole alignment on gay marriage which puts marriage and civil unions as one group and burn them as witches in the other. It is a pretty clearly a three position (at least) issue. Civil Unions, in addition to the second class citizen stigma, would also run into plenty of issue surrounding the full faith and credit/state portability. It is, in other words, more than just a term. But out of the weeds we go…

    I am also willing to accept that the TP movement is, as you say “an evolving political landscape that eventually crossed a threshold”. But it is, again, overly convenient to derive strong evidence of libertarianish credibility as opposed to anti-Obamaism (and all that comes with it or generates it) based upon the timing of their bloom when it came in roughly the same period as Obama’s election.

    And continueing my “Brad is cherry picking the data” motif: Defining TPer targets purely by a couple of well timed electoral impacts on GOP primary races ignores not only Scott Brown, but also the extraordinary pressure and rallies surrounding health care reform.

    Yes yes and yes there is a legit libertarian strain here, the Tea Party movement is multilayered and complicated, and it is a mistake to paint with a big wide Racist motivated fringe element Obama derangement movement. Granted. But you are going out of your way to select data and interpretations that paints them in the most generous light. Which might just be a personality traight associated with generosity. But I would rather think that you suffer from a snark deficit.

    Comment by Jack — 4/21/2010 @ 10:55 am

  11. I just did a post on this very subject on CJR.
    http://www.cjr.org/campaign_desk/an_oversteeped_tea_party.php

    Though I think I should have been more snarky.

    Comment by thimbles — 4/22/2010 @ 8:30 pm

  12. Heh. I agree 100% with what you wrote there.

    What’s funny too is it struck me that we (here I mean you and I, but by all means, intend to generalize) can have a habit of posting differently in different ecosystems. What was always ironic when I was getting reamed by Republicans in the Bush years was that I spent an awful lot of time on liberal sites (attracted there because they were anti-Bush) essentially shooting down their stereotypes and putting up for conservatism, in philosophy if not in practice. Then, during Obama’s first year, I would get reamed for being a sycophant, when in different circles I spent a lot of time problematizing things among Obama supporters. Now, off-site, I spend a lot of time, among Tea Party sympathetic crowds, constantly nagging and pointing out flaws and what can be done better, whereas to liberal or libertarian audiences, I tend to be all silver lining.

    None of this is disingenuous, precisely—I don’t consciously ape different perspectives, nor do I ever intend to post differently at different places. Just sort of funny that I wind up doing that anyway, sort of pushed that way by the prevailing current.

    I should put CJR on the blogroll, just so I can remember to check it more. Everything you link from there tends to be worth reading.

    Comment by Brad — 4/22/2010 @ 9:17 pm

  13. The audit has been pretty much must read for me:
    http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/

    The other sections can be pretty fluffy at times, but Trudy Lieberman’s work on health care and Ryan Chittum’s work on business and its press is essential for people who want to talk about economics.

    Speaking of which:
    http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/bartlett_on_shallow_think_tank.php

    Comment by thimbles — 4/22/2010 @ 9:32 pm

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