David Campbell and Robert Putnam have an insightful editorial in today’s New York Times. In Crashing the Tea Party they summarize their study of national political attitudes (from interviews with a representative sample of 3,000 Americans) and shed some light onto unifying themes and motivations of members of the so-called Tea Party.
Tea Partiers are united in their love of freedom and opposition to “big government”, right?
That may be, but, according to Campbell and Putnam, the single biggest predictor of Tea Party involvement is “a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.”
And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.
This agenda is, according to the authors, far out of line with attitudes of a large majority of Americans. They argue, however, that the official stated emphasis and brand of the Tea Party is more in line with many Americans’ “anti-big-government” values (a point I will take some issue with).
Another big predictor of Tea Party participation: whiteness.
They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do. [my emphasis]
There you have it. No disrespect, but the Tea Party is fueled by racism and religious bigotry. Dealing with these folks day-in-and-day-out during the health care fight, this much was abundantly clear to many of us. Now there’s some research to back up what we knew in our guts.