How Far to the Right Is the Tea Party?

by Dan Quinn

As we have suggested in numerous posts about the Tea Party movement, hardcore Tea Partiers in Texas appear increasingly linked to the religious right. A new survey from the University of Washington’s Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality also shows that hardcore Tea Partiers in Washington state — identified in the survey as “true believers” who strongly approve of the Tea Party — are significantly more conservative than voters generally. And it’s not that they are more conservative just on issues such as opposing taxes and “big government.” The survey shows that Tea Partiers are just fine with intrusive government so long as government is doing what they want.

Here are some selected survey results regarding core Tea Partiers — the “true believers”:

  • 52% believe that lesbians and gay men — “compared to the size of their group” — have too much political power. (The percentage of all voters who agree: 25%)
  • Just 18 percent agree that gay and lesbian couples should have the same legal right ot marry as straight couples. (All voters: 41%)
  • 74% believe it isn’t the government’s job to guarantee equal opportunity for blacks and other minorities. (All voters: 52%)
  • 73% disapprove of efforts by the Obama administration to engage with countries with predominantly Muslim populations. (All voters: 33%)
  • 88% approve of the new immigration law in Arizona, which requires police to question people they suspect are illegal immigrants for proof of legal status. (All voters: 52%)
  • 63% support racial profiling of Muslims and Middle Easterners in airports (All voters: 43%)

A New York Times poll in April found that Tea Party supporters tend to be wealthier and more educated than the general population. That poll also showed Tea Partiers are significantly less likely to support gay marriage, much more likely to oppose abortion and think the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision was a “bad thing.”

Interestingly, the New York Times poll showed that large majorities of Tea Partiers support Social Security and Medicare: 62% of Tea Partiers (versus 78% of all respondents) agree that the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs. Yet 92% of Tea Partiers (versus 50% of all respondents) also say they want a smaller government providing fewer services than a bigger government providing more services. (So long, we suspect, as the services they get aren’t cut.)

This is not a surprise to anyone who has been to a Tea Party event: 53% of Tea Partiers (versus 19% of all respondents) describe themselves as “angry” when asked about “their feelings about the way things are going in Washington.”

So where does that leave us? Bruce Bartlett, a former official in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush, wrote this today as he reviewed the University of Washington survey:

What I think this poll shows is that taxes and spending are not by any means the only issues that define TPM [Tea party movement] members; they are largely united in being unsympathetic to African Americans, militant in their hostility toward illegal immigrants, and very conservative socially. At a minimum, these data throw cold water on the view that the TPM is essentially libertarian. Based on these data, I would say that TPM members have much more in common with social conservatives that welcome government intervention as long as it’s in support of their agenda.