The Tea Party
What is the Tea Party?
A conservative political movement, the Tea Party emerged soon after President Obama’s inauguration, with a series of local and national protests. In 2010, the Tea Party backed local candidates across the country, some of whom surprised observers by defeating mainstream Republicans candidates in the primaries. In the general election of November, 2010, half of the Tea Party-backed Senate candidates won, and nearly a third won in the House.
How did it start?
In early February, 2009, CNBC Business News editor Rick Santelli criticized a federal plan to refinance mortgages, and suggested holding a tea party to dump mortgage-backed securities in nearby Lake Michigan. His televised performance became a viral video. Tea Party protests, organized mainly via Facebook and other web pages, were held in 40 cities in late February, 2009.
Who supports it?
Polls indicate that Tea Party supporters are mainly white (79%, according to one poll), and over 45 years old. Some polls show that supporters have more education and wealth than the average American. One poll found that nearly half identify themselves as “born again Christians.”
What do they believe?
Tea Party supporters do not have an agreed-upon ideology, but a few themes dominate their discussions. They believe that the federal government is too big and spends too much, that taxes and deficits are too high, and that the Washington establishment hasn’t listened to their concerns. Tea Party groups oppose President Obama’s programs, including health care reform and the bailouts of Wall Street and the automakers. As compared with other Americans, very few Tea Party supporters believe that global warming is a serious problem. As of April, 2010, only 7% of Tea Partiers approved of President Obama’s job performance, as compared with 50% of the general public. Despite their opposition to big government programs, 70% thought the federal government should help create jobs.
A loosely organized coalition of local groups, the Tea Party movement has no national leadership, according to conservative commentator and Fox News regular Dick Morris. But liberal columnist Paul Krugman asserts the opposite, calling Tea Party events “AstroTurf,” or fake grass-roots, orchestrated by conservative groups like FreedomWorks (run by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey), financed by right-wing billionaires, and promoted by Fox News. Sarah Palin has been called the “symbolic leader of the movement.”
The Tea Party movement is backed by several wealthy individuals and their organizations, most famously David and Charles Koch (owners of the largest privately-held oil company in America) and their group, Americans for Prosperity.
For more on the movement’s financial supporters, see The Huffington Post.
The 2010 elections
According to the New York Times, the Tea Party supported 129 candidates for the House and 9 for the Senate. Tea Party-backed candidates scored surprising victories against mainstream and incumbent Republicans in the primaries. Those who went on to win in the general elections included Senate candidates Rand Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Marco Rubio in Florida; and Nikki Haley, the newly elected Governor of South Carolina. Prominent among those defeated were Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (Delaware), Ken Buck (Colorado) and Sharron Angle (Nevada), and N.Y gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. In exit polls, 40% of voters expressed support for the Tea Party movement.
Origin of the name
The name “Tea Party” refers to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Colonists dumped British tea into Boston Harbor to protest the tea tax, which they saw as “taxation without representation.”
The Contract from America
An updated version of the 1994 Republican “Contract with America,” the Contract from America originated with a website that invited visitors to offer ideas for reform. The site’s creator narrowed the submissions down to 21 proposals. An online vote yielded a final list of 10 ideas that candidates were then asked to support, including: a permanent repeal of all recent tax increases; repeal of the health care legislation passed in 2010; a cap on growth in federal spending; a single-rate tax system; and a requirement that any new federal law identify the provision in the constitution that gives Congress the authority to create the law. (Go here for the complete list.) Mainstream Republicans resisted the Contract, and instead published their own “Pledge to America.”
David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, “Crashing the Tea Party,” New York Times, 8/17/11: Based on their research, the authors conclude that Tea Partiers have lost popularity, not because they want smaller government, but because they want more religion in government—a position that Americans increasingly oppose.
Michael Cohen, “9 Takeaways from the Election,” AOL News, 11/3/10: an analysis of the Tea Party’s impact on the November 2010 elections.
Matt Lewis, “5 Things Conservatives Should Be Wary of in the Tea Party,” Politics Daily: a conservative’s analysis of the Tea Party’s positives and negatives.
For more information
David Kirby and Emily Ekins, “Tea party’s other half,” Politico.com, 10/28/10: analyzes the beliefs of Tea Party supporters based on a survey, and concludes that they include both libertarians and traditional conservatives—who don’t always agree with each other.
For a list of Tea Party-backed candidates who won (or lost) their elections, see abcnews.com.
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Last updated 8/19/11