There’s a lot of post-mortem about where, and how the Tea Party came to be a force that could bring the largest economy and country to a screeching halt. John Judis of the New Republic thinks that the Tea Party is a conflict group based on a (false) sense of social activism. Seth Ackerman of Salon, on the other hand, thinks that the rise of the Tea Party is structural, and more deeply rooted in the underpinnings of American society.
Like many who have written about the subject, they’re both right – and they’re both wrong. Rather, I pose that the Tea Party is the intersection of Social Activism (Conflict/Grass roots) and Political Activism (structural).
First, let’s look at the demographics of the Tea Party – the facts versus the prejudice.
It’s hard to get a handle on the “official” membership numbers of the Tea Party, because it’s not an official political party. However, there is a Tea Party Caucus in Congress, and we can get a sense of Tea Party membership overall from the number of representatives in Congress who are members of the caucus. Here’s how it looks (Source: U.S. House of Representatives):
So we’ve established that the Tea Party is mostly a southern phenomenon.
The University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service has put together some great survey data of Tea Party Members that looks more at the social activism side, along with some great demographics on their subjects.
Here’s a nifty chart showing the Tea Party’s values in biblical terms:
Here’s some stark facts about the Tea Party from that U of A study (N=3406):
- 84% of all Tea Party whites think that it’s not the job of the government to assure minorities have equal access to jobs
- 83% of all Tea Party whites think that it’s not the job of the government to assure minorities have equal access to housing.
- And (interestingly) 70% of all Tea Party whites think that it’s not the job of the government to assure minorities have equal access to education.
So there seems to be something southern, white, biblically based, and racist going on with the Tea Party. Now is it structural or conflict? Is it political activism, or social activism (such as grass roots)?
According to Congressional records, the Tea Party Caucus was first launched by Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman July 16, 2010. So there is a political movement.
However, the Tea Party website lists themselves as a grass roots organization, and there is no way to actually join. It’s organizational structure is unclear.
Rarely in history, except for perhaps the Bolshevik Revolution that brought Communism to Tsarist Russia during World War I, have we seen the intersection of a political movement and a social movement on this level.