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The Tea Party: Who Are They?

May 13, 2011

Who are the Tea Party and what do they believe? These are the questions being researched by Professor Christopher Parker of the University of Washington in Seattle who I met today.

There are 300 000 signed up members of the five recognised Tea Party factions. A total of three million have been to a Tea Party rally or contributed to the organisation. According to the research, there could be 55 million Americans who strongly approve of the Tea Party.

Here’s something I learned: 70 per cent of Tea Party supporters, according to this polling, want to see the 14th Amendment deleted from the US Constitution . The 14th Amendment is “birth-right citizenship”, which gives US citizenship to anyone born in the United States, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. Part of the anti-immigrant wave within the Tea Party is critical of Hispanics for allegedly slipping into the US illegally and having a child who can claim all the rights of American citizenship.

According to Professor Parker there are strong movements of racism, sexism and homophobia among Tea Party supporters, something which differentiates it from other elements in American conservatism.

As a result of the 2010 election there are 10 senators and 85 congressmen who received endorsement from at least one of the Tea Party factions, with Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky their informal leader in the Senate and Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota their informal leader in the House.

Professor Parker said Tea Party support would probably coalesce around Newt Gingrich rather than Trump in the contest for the Republican Party nomination. Trump’s support evaporated with Obama’s success in getting Osama bin Laden. The President was entitled to say “While you’re grilling me about my birth certificate, I’ve just killed bin Laden.”

In the least surprising bit of Parker’s research, 64 per cent of Tea Party supporters get their news from Fox.

  1. boy on a bike permalink
    May 13, 2011 5:45 pm


    I know you like a good book, so if you want to get inside the head of the Tea Party members, read this:

  2. May 13, 2011 5:51 pm

    There is some evidence to suggest that there’s no such thing as the ‘Tea Party’ at all; rather it is an astroturfing contrivance invented by Americans For Prosperity, a right-wing pressure group founded in part by oil billionaire David Koch (see

    Moreover, the ‘Tea Party’ seems to be a spent force. Attendance at ‘Tea Party’ rallies collapsed when the GOP recently released the Ryan Budget proposal, which would destroy the US Medicare system. See Rick Ungar in Forbes Magazine:

    Even at anti-healthcare reform rallies in 2009, attendees showed up in Medicare-funded mobility scooters and carried signs demanding ‘hands off my Medicare,’ not understanding that Obama’s healthcare reforms did nothing to reduce Medicare benefits, but hyper-conservative politicians, if elected, would turn medicare into a voucher system and leave recipients at the whim of health insurance companies.

    The ‘Tea Party’ is not only old news but several recently elected ‘Tea Party’ backed US state politicians are in grave danger of being removed from office, with specific reference to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Ohio Governor John Kasich’s SB5 is going to be the subject of a citizen-initiated referendum which may see that bill vetoed by the voters. Ohio has no legal facility for recalls of the governor.

    The pendulum is swinging back- look not only for Obama to be re-elected but for far-right ‘Tea Party’ politicians to be expelled short of their full terms wherever possible.

  3. Bron permalink
    May 13, 2011 6:57 pm

    The Tea Party, whoever they are, are a fascinating and horrifying phenomenon.

  4. Nick permalink
    May 14, 2011 12:23 pm

    ‘…there are strong movements of racism, sexism and homophobia among Tea Party supporters, something which differentiates it from other elements in American conservatism.’
    The racism and sexism in other elements of American conservatism are not overt (we could argue about how strong they are) but homophobia is in ALL brands of American conservatism. It’s not only the Tea Party who oppose gay marriage, bans are arising in many states. And let’s not forget that several states banned all homosexual sex until the US Supreme Court overturned their laws in 2003, well before the Tea Party stood out as a faction.

  5. Matt permalink
    May 14, 2011 10:05 pm

    The Tea Party seems to confuse and exasperate so many Australian commentators. It isn’t neatly organised, and doesn’t have clear leadership or spokespeople. It certainly isn’t about race, or racism, as there appear to be people of all races involved. It isn’t an ‘astroturf” operation, because there are all sorts of different tea party groups with no apparent structure or chain of command. It attracts support from both the “libertarian right” and the “religious right”, two groups who are at loggerheads on many other issues. It seems that tens of thousands of Americans who have never marched or protested anything before have been motivated to take to the streets. So, what is it about? What is the “root cause” of this movement?

    It is a reaction to a perception that government is too big, too wasteful, spends too much money, and taxes too highly. It is a reaction to a government with revenue of $2.2 trillion dollars and spending of $3.6 trillion, meaning that this year alone $1.4 trillion will be added to US government debt that already exceeds $14 trillion. Many State governments are in a similar position, although without the ability to “print money” their situation may be even more dire. It is a realisation that a financial catastrophe is coming if the US government continues in this direction.

    It has led to a small number of US politicians realising that something must be done. Notable among these are Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, with his alternative budget and deficit reduction plans, Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, who is slashing state spending, and Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is also slashing spending.

    Many times I have seen Tea Partiers branded as “racists” , “extremists”, or just plain crazy. I suspect that those who belittle and denigrate the movement may be the real “crazies”.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 14, 2011 10:23 pm

      You make points about the ballooning cost of government that I have advanced on this page. Of course, the Tea Party are opposed to any wind back of Medicare or of other entitlements ( at least as far as I can see ) and any reduction in defense spending. Congressman Ron Paul is honest about the need to assail both and thus stands for an attack on the size of government.

      Have a look at Steve Kornacki How Republicans Became the Party of Deficits in Salon.

      • Matt permalink
        May 15, 2011 10:41 pm

        Bob, Steve Kornacki is right about the spending side of the equation-republicans have proven to be just as profligate as democrats. He seems to ignore the fact that the the “supply siders” are at least partly right- massive cuts in tax rates such as those seen under JFK and Reagan did not lead to the collapse in revenues that their opponents predicted.

        Federal tax receipts have hovered around the same level as a percentage of GDP for decades. The problem in America is spending, and plenty of tea party supporters, and a growing number of republicans and democrats like the three I mentioned are talking a great deal about entitlement spending. If the US stopped all military spending tomorrow, it would only cover a third of the deficit, so I think that cuts to the military are over-estimated as a cure for America’s spending problems.

        I know that CNN managed to interview some elderly woman at a Tea party rally who said she doesn’t want her medicare taken away, but I think that the most people within the Tea Party movement would recognise the need for massive cuts to all kinds of entitlements and programs.

  6. Boy on a bike permalink
    May 15, 2011 12:04 pm

    Tea party favourite – Herman Cain.

    He’s the dark bloke.

    • Tony Booth permalink
      May 17, 2011 12:36 pm

      Yes I belong to another web site where the tea baggers oops teaparty have links for Herman Cain they firmly believe that he is Obama’s biggest threat. He seems to be articulate, smart savvy and focused. He does however, support the Cato Institute and other measures. I would appreciate some analysis of their policies although I can see a link above. Some news reports have suggested $6.3 trillion of the current debt has been attributed to the Bush tax cuts. I have subscribed to the Herman Cain weekly newsletter well worth a read to keep abreast of a potential dark horse candidate. Bob when we will see you appear as a GOP 2012 commentator for Sky or ABC24?

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