Tea Party Distinguished by Racial Views and Fear of the Future
Findings from the Blair-Rockefeller poll
On the heels of the 2010 mid-term elections, the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society, together with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, conducted a comprehensive national poll of political attitudes and behaviors. The Blair-Rockefeller poll oversampled participants from the southern region of the United States, as well as oversampling African Americans and Latinos, providing unique perspectives on contemporary politics. With over 3,400 respondents from across the nation, the Blair-Rockefeller Poll provides a distinctly accurate perspective on how Americans view each other and how they evaluate contemporary public policies.
Tea Party distinguished by racial views and fear of the future
By Angie Maxwell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science
Following the post-inaugural rise of Tea Party groups throughout the country, the Blair-Rockefeller Poll allowed participants to indicate whether they identified with the growing movement. 10.6% of the national poll defined themselves as Tea Party members. Tea Party members are predominantly white, middle class, educated, Christian males over the age of 45. Though the unemployment rate of Tea Party members is less than the national average, Tea Party members seem to feel that their situations are going to get worse. This “fear of falling” has driven them to become politically engaged as voters and politically knowledgeable. Their policy preferences are very distinct, with negative views toward health care reform, specifically, distinguishing them from Republicans.
Tea Party Demographics
The large national sample of self-identified Tea Party members available in the Blair-Rockefeller Poll reveals detailed characteristics of this burgeoning and homogenous movement. 91.4% of Tea Party members are White, and 85% are Christian. 37.4% of Tea Party members believe that “the Bible is the actual Word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word,” as compared to 29.7 % of Non-Tea Party members (Figure 1).
And when asked how often they attend church services, Tea Party members are more likely to attend church MORE than once a week. There is a distinct gender gap within the party with 57.8% of Tea Party members being male, while 42.2% are female. Almost two-thirds (63.2%) or Tea Party members are over the age of 45.
Nearly half of Tea Party members (49.9%) are middle class, with an annual household income of 40 to 100K, another 13.9% make over 100K. Tea Party members are less likely to fall below the poverty level than Non-Tea Party members. The majority (65.3%) of Tea Party members have some college training, with 27.5 % having earned a Bachelor’s Degree or higher (Figure 2).
Moreover, only 7.2 % of Tea Party members have less than a high school education, as compared to 13.4 % of Non-Tea Party members. Only 8.6 % of Tea Party members are not working because they have either been laid off temporarily or have lost their job and are looking for work, compared to 10.7% of Non-Tea Party members.
Major Differences between Tea Party Members and Non-Tea Party Members Exist Nationwide
In three specific categories, Tea Party Members significantly distinguish themselves from Non-Tea Party members. First, Tea Party Members report voting in record numbers during the 2010 mid-term elections. Specifically, 87.6 % of Tea Party members voted in 2010 for a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives as compared to 59.3% of Non-Tea Party members. Results in the U. S. Senate races were similar (Table 1). This mass turnout among Tea Party members may account for the substantial media coverage that this relatively small movement has experienced. A second contributing factor may be the political knowledge demonstrated by Tea Party supporters. When asked a battery of “political sophistication” questions—factual questions about the contemporary government—Tea Party members outperformed Non-Tea Party members repeatedly. Specifically, Tea Party members were more likely to correctly identify the jobs held by Attorney General Eric Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Vice President Joe Biden (Table 1). Finally, Tea Party Members share a pessimistic view of the future. 36.9% of Tea Party members think their personal situations will get worse or much worse in the next year, as compared to 23.6% of Non-Tea Party members. Specifically 39.2% of Tea Party Member believe their own personal financial situation will be worse in a year, as compared to 21.9% of Tea Party members. And 62.1% of Tea Party members think the country will get worse or much worse in the next year, as compared to 38.8% of Non-Tea Party members (Table 1).
TABLE 1. DIFFERENCES TEA PARTY MEMBERS & NON-TEA PARTY MEMBERS NATIONWIDE
|Question (Answer)||Tea Party Members||Non-Tea Party Members|
|[2010 Midterms] How about the election for the House of Representatives in Washington? Did you vote for a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives? (Yes)||84.6%||57.4%
|[2010 Midterms] How about the election for the United States Senate. Did you vote for a candidate for the U.S. Senate? (Yes)||80.9%||53.4%|
|We are also interested in peoples' perspective on the future and whether they believe things are getting better or worse. Do you think your own personal situation will get much better or much worse? (somewhat worse or much worse)||36.9%||23.6%|
|We are also interested in peoples' perspective on the future and whether they believe things are getting better or worse. Do you think the country will get much better or much worse? (somewhat worse or much worse)||62.1%||38.8%|
|We are also interested in how people are getting along financially these days. What do you think your financial situation will be a year from now? (worse off)||39.2%||21.9%|
|Do you happen to know who Eric Holder is? (U. S. Attorney General)||50.8%||28.0%|
|What job or political office does Joe Biden NOW hold? (Vice President of the United States)||91.4%||78.8%
|What job or political office does John Roberts NOW hold? (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court)||46.6%||27.4%
|Number of observations = 3406 Source: 2010 Blair-Rockefeller Poll|
Race Consciousness and Divergent Views about Equality are Characteristic of Tea Party.
Various responses by Tea Party members reveals that a significant portion of this community is both aware of racial differences and believes that racial differences provide certain advantages. For example, 46.1% of Tea Party members think the future for White people will be worse or much worse, as opposed to 24.5% of Non-Tea Party members. When the sample is restricted to only White respondents, Tea Party distinctions on racial issues are clearer. Specifically, Tea Party members are more likely to believe that job, school, housing, and health equity are not the responsibility of the federal government. Nearly two-thirds (62.8%) of White Tea Party members think “we have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country.” Moreover, though equality of opportunity (as opposed to equality of outcome) remains one the political values shared by most Americans, 30.7% of White Tea Party Members express disagreement with the concept. An overwhelming 69.3% of White Tea Party Members strongly disapprove of President Obama, with another 22.8% disapproving. Among whites, Tea Party members are more than twice a likely to identify President Obama as a Muslim.
TABLE 2. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TEA PARTY WHITES & NON-TEA PARTY WHITES NATIONWIDE
|Question (Answer)||Tea Party Whites||Non-Tea Party Whites|
|Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that minorities have job equality with Whites, even if it means you will have to pay more taxes? (not the responsibility of the federal government)||84.5%||66.9%
|Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that minorities have schools equal in quality to Whites, even if it means you have to pay more taxes? (not the responsibility of the federal government)||69.3%||46.2%
|Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that minorities have housing equal in quality to Whites, even if it means you have to pay more taxes? (not the responsibility of the federal government)||83.0%||63.4%|
|Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that minorities have health care services equal to Whites, even if it means you have to pay more taxes? (not the responsibility of the federal government)||81.4%||53.2%
|Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: We have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country? (strongly agree or agree)||62.8%||39.4%|
|Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Our society should do whatever is necessary to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. (strongly disagree or disagree)||30.7%||12.3%
|Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as President? (strongly disapprove)||69.3%||19.0%
|Thinking about Barack Obama’s religious beliefs… Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? (Christian)||31.5%||49.4%
|Thinking about Barack Obama’s religious beliefs… Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is? (Muslim)||38.8%||16.7%|
|Number of observations = 2469
Source: 2010 Blair-Rockefeller Poll
Health Care Concerns Account for Tea Party Divide within the Republican Party
The Blair-Rockefeller Poll asked all participants to indicate their party identification on a 7-point scale (Strong Democrat, Democrat, Independent-Leaning Democrat, Independent, Independent-Leaning Republican, Republican, Strong Republican). A clear majority of Tea Party Members (55.1%) identified as Republican, with another 26.7% identifying as Independent, leaning-Republican. On economic issues, particularly deficit policies, Tea Party Republicans report more conservative preferences than Non-Tea Party Republicans. For example, while 88.8% of Tea Party Republicans oppose increasing taxes to reduce the budget deficit, a lower percentage (74.2%) of Non-Tea Party Republican indicate their opposition. And over 90% of Tea Party Republicans do not think that the economic stimulus plan is helping the country as a whole, as compared to 77.6% of Non-Tea Party Republicans. But this gap is not limited solely to fiscal policy, as is widely claimed by Tea Party leadership. Larger numbers of Tea Party Republicans hold socially conservative views with 79.9% of Tea Party Republicans reporting their opposition to gay marriage and 71.8% to gay adoption. This gap between Tea Party Republicans and Non-Tea Party Republicans even extends to disapproval of affirmative action efforts and to support for immigration laws like the one in Arizona (Table 3).
Despite these clear distinctions within the Republican Party, the Blair-Rockefeller Poll exposes as larger gap (13% - 44%) between Tea Party Republicans and Non-Tea Party Republicans. Clear and, in some cases, overwhelming majorities of responses indicate that Tea Party Republicans believe that health care reform will lead to socialism, euthanasia, reduced quality of care, and benefits for the undeserving.
TABLE 3. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TEA PARTY REPUBLICANS & NON-TEA PARTY REPUBLICANS NATIONWIDE
|Question (Answer)||Tea Party Republicans||Non-Tea Party Republicans
|Do you favor or oppose increasing taxes to reduce the budget deficit? (strongly oppose or oppose)||88.8%||74.2%
|Do you favor or oppose allowing homosexual couples to legally adopt children? (strongly oppose or oppose)||71.8%||53.7%
|Do you favor or oppose allowing homosexual couples to legally marry? (strongly oppose or oppose)||79.9%||62.6%
|Do you favor or oppose enacting tougher immigration laws like the one in Arizona? (strongly favor or favor)||92.8%||77.6%|
|Do you favor or oppose employers and colleges making an extra effort to find and recruit qualified minorities? (strongly oppose or oppose)||56.5%||43.3%
|To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The economic stimulus plan is helping the country as a whole. (strongly disagree or agree)||91.5%||66.6%
|In general how do you feel about the recent approach to health care reform?* (strongly oppose)||77.0%||42.5%
|To what extent are you concerned that the recently proposed health care reforms may lead to health care rationing?* (very concerned)||81.3%||37.4%
|To what extent are you concerned that the recently proposed health care reforms may lead to Euthanasia (“mercy killing”) of elderly Americans?* (very concerned)||68.9%||32.0%|
|To what extent are you concerned that the recently proposed health care reforms may lead to benefits to people who do not work hard enough to deserve them?* (very concerned)
|Number of observations = 1202
*only 555 Republicans answered this question. The remainder were asked the same question in a different format as part of an experiment. The large gap between the Tea Party Republicans and Non-Tea Party Republicans was the same regardless of the question format.
Source: 2010 Blair-Rockefeller Poll
Though the Tea Party only constitutes 10.6% of the population, they will remain a significant subset of the Republican Party if they maintain such high levels of voter turnout and political sophistication. They are demographically homogenous, as are their policy preferences. Their unification extends beyond fiscal conservatism and concern for the American debt. Tea Party members are social conservatives, and they are particularly united in their opposition to President Obama. Their extreme racial views will make them less appealing to American Independents and centrists. Moreover, recent efforts to cut the budget by Tea Party Republicans, that are perceived to impact Medicare, could trigger the same fears demonstrated in Blair-Rockefeller Poll’s analysis of Tea Party responses to health care reform.
The Blair-Rockefeller Poll is a national survey that was fielded immediately following the November 2010 midterm elections. The Blair-Rockefeller poll was administered by Knowledge Networks (www.knowledgenetworks.com), an internet based survey company that includes a representative sample of Americans in its proprietary data base including representation of the roughly 30 percent of U. S. households that do not have internet access. In addition, it covers the growing number of cell phone only households (recently estimated at 23 percent of all households) thought address-based sampling.
The survey probed national and regional issues of concern to the population of the United States and was conducted in both English and Spanish. The average survey took 21 minutes to complete. The 2010 Blair-Rockefeller Poll included a total sample of 3,406 individuals who were 18 years and older. This included 1,649 White, Non-Hispanic respondents; 825 African Americans and 932 Hispanic Latinos.
Angie Maxwell, Ph.D.
Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies
Assistant Professor of Political Science
University of Arkansas