In the short period after President Barack Obama’s election, a new force has emerged in American politics. The so-called Tea Party movement nowadays provides strong opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies.
In light of its growing influence, the Tea Party has come under attack as a movement motivated by racial animus. Some – such as New York Times columnist Charles Blow – have criticized Tea Party rallies for lacking diversity. The NAACP is planning to draft a statement calling on the Tea Party to repudiate extremists within its ranks.
All this leads to the question: is the Tea Party movement really a racist organization in disguise?
The answer depends on examining what Tea Party movement really is. Most Americans would probably agree that the Tea Party holds a lot in common with the Republican Party. The conservative Fox News channel, for instance, especially TV-host Glenn Beck, was fundamentally instrumental in the Tea Party’s rise.
Polls of Tea Party members also provide useful context. Take this NYT poll, which went out in the field this April. A grand 5% of Tea Party members usually or always vote Democratic (pg. 35); 6% have a positive view of the Democratic Party (pg. 18). With regards to personal ideology, 4% of Tea Partiers consider themselves “somewhat liberal” – while 73% consider themselves “somewhat” or “very conservative” (pg. 41). In the general population, 34% of those polled put themselves into the “somewhat” or “very conservative” column.
Indeed, on almost every issue in which Democrats and Republicans disagree, Tea Party supporters support the side of the Republican Party. To take just one example, a solid 57% of them hold a positive opinion of former President George W. Bush, compared to 27% with a negative opinion (pg. 21).
The Tea Party movement then, looks much like a group of passionate Republicans calling themselves by the name “Tea Partiers.” Unlike presidential candidate Ross Perot, who drew support equally from both parties, the Tea Party draws overwhelmingly from conservatives and Republicans. In 1992, Mr. Perot’s three best states were Maine, Alaska, and Utah. Maine would probably not be in that list were a Tea Party candidate to run.
If the Tea Party is really just a group of politically excited Republicans, it follows that what is true for the Republican Party is true for the Tea Party. How racist is the Tea Party, if at all? Well, just as racist as the Republican Party.
This analysis explains the homogeneity of Tea Party rallies. The Times poll found that 89% of Tea Parties considered themselves white (pg. 41). This is, quite coincidentally, the same exact percentage of John McCain voters who are white. Thus, Tea Party rallies are mainly white because most Tea Partiers are Republicans, and Republican voters are mainly white.
Of course, this analysis begs a second question: Is the Republican Party racist? That is a complicated and controversial line of inquiry. How one answers it probably depends on a number of factors, such as whether one is a Republican or a Democrat.