The Tea Party is Not the Same as the Grand Old Party

Tea Party marked by negative views on health care, race and future

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Angie Maxwell, University of Arkansas

Angie Maxwell, University of Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – For the GOP, the Tea Party is a mixed bag, according to political scientist Angie Maxwell of the University of Arkansas in a new report issued by the Blair-Rockefeller Poll. Her analysis of poll results shows that while Tea Party members are politically sophisticated and vote at high rates, they are also fiscally and socially more conservative than other Republicans, sometimes dramatically so.

When Maxwell analyzed responses to the poll, conducted in the aftermath of the 2010 elections, she saw significant differences between Tea Party Republicans and other Republicans. Health care was one issue where the gap was particularly big. The large national sample of self-identified Tea Party members available in the Blair-Rockefeller Poll, Maxwell said, “reveals detailed characteristics of this burgeoning and homogenous movement.”

“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,” Maxwell wrote.

For example, 81.3 percent of Tea Party Republicans express concern that reform may lead to health care rationing, compared to 37.4 percent of other Republicans. Similarly, 68.9 percent of Tea Party Republicans and just 32 percent of other Republicans are very concerned about euthanasia of the elderly as a result of health care reform. In general, 77 percent of Tea Party members strongly oppose the recent approach to health care reform, compared to 42.5 percent of their fellow Republicans.

This gap could be problematic as the budget debates go on in Congress and the 2012 election nears. For example, Maxwell noted “support for any budget cuts that are perceived to negatively impact Medicare could trigger the same fears that we saw in responses to the Blair-Rockefeller poll questions about health care reform, and thus backfire on Tea Party members.”

Maxwell’s report, titled “Tea Party Distinguished by Racial Views and Fear of the Future,” was drawn from the first Blair-Rockefeller Poll, conducted in November 2010. In the report, Maxwell delineates demographics, characteristics and policy preferences of the Tea Party movement. The full text of the report as well as information about the poll’s methodology is available on the Blair-Rockefeller Poll website, http://www.uark.edu/rd_arsc/blairrockefellerpoll/5295.php.

The Blair-Rockefeller Poll found that Tea Party members are predominantly white, middle class, educated, Christian males over the age of 45 and that 37.4 percent of Tea Party members believe that “the Bible is the actual Word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” In contrast, 29.7 percent of other respondents, who were not Tea Party members, shared that belief.

Although Tea Party members tend to have a higher income, more education and lower unemployment rates than non-Tea Party members, they are more pessimistic about the future. When asked about their personal situations, 36.9 percent of Tea Party members reported they expect things to be worse or much worse in the coming year, in contrast to 23.6 percent of non-Tea Party members. The gap was even greater for views about the country’s future: 62.1 percent thought things will get worse or much worse in the country over the next year, while only 38.8 percent of non-Tea Party members held that view.

Maxwell identified race consciousness and divergent views about equality as characteristic of the Tea Party. For example, in a comparison between white Tea Party members and white people who are not part of the Tea Party, Maxwell finds that white Tea Party members are more strongly opposed to federal support of housing, school, job and health care quality for minorities. Additionally, whereas support for “equality of opportunity” — as opposed to “equality of outcome” — remains a political value shared by most Americans, Maxwell wrote, she found that 30.7 percent of white Tea Party members disagree with the concept. Nearly two-thirds of white Tea Party members think “we have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country.”

Tea Party members, Maxwell wrote, “are particularly united in their opposition to President Obama.” Among white respondents to the Blair-Rockefeller Poll, Tea Party members are more than twice as likely to believe President Obama is a Muslim. Looking toward implications for the 2012 election, Maxwell wrote, “Their extreme racial views will make them less appealing to American Independents and centrists.”

Maxwell and political scientists Todd Shields, Pearl Ford Dowe, and Rafael Jimeno of the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas created the Blair-Rockefeller Poll. On the heels of the 2010 mid-term elections, the Blair Center, together with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, contracted with Knowledge Networks to conduct 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 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. 

The Blair Center was established in 2001 by an act of the U.S. Congress and named in honor of political scientist Diane Divers Blair, who taught for 30 years in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. The center studies the American South from a variety of angles to reveal the undercurrents of politics, history and culture that have shaped the region over time. For more information about the Blair Center, visit blaircenter.uark.edu or contact director Todd Shields at tshield@uark.edu.

The University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in 2005 with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. Based on the legacy and ideas of former Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center offers workshops, seminars, public lectures, conferences and special events. Program areas include agriculture and environment, arts and humanities, economic development, and policy and public affairs. For more information about the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, visit LiveTheLegacy.org or contact program director Susan Dumas at sdumas@uawri.org.

Maxwell is the Diane D. Blair Professor of Southern Studies and an assistant professor of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

Contacts:

Angie Maxwell, assistant professor, political science
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-6007, amax@uark.edu

Barbara Jaquish, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-2683, jaquish@uark.edu