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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Tea Party and Presidential Politics

In the election update of our text, we discuss the "tea party" phenomenon. At The Washington Post, Dan Balz summarizes the latest scholarly observations:

That the tea party sprang to life during Obama’s presidency should have been less surprising than it was. According to Alan Abramowitz of Emory University, “The tea party movement can best be understood in the context of the long-term growth of partisan-ideological polarization within the American electorate and especially the growing conservatism of the activist base in the Republican Party.”


In other words, the Republican base was primed to dislike Obama as president. In fact, it already did before he was ever sworn in. “People attending the tea party events that began early in the Obama administration expressed the same vehement hostility toward Obama first observed at campaign rallies for John McCain and Sarah Palin” in the fall of 2008, writes Gary Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego.

They were also predisposed to oppose his agenda, whether it was his big stimulus package or his health-care proposal. Those measures helped galvanize the group that became known as tea party activists or supporters, but as Jacobson notes, “The tea party movement conferred a label and something of a self-conscious identity to a pre-existing Republican faction that already held strongly conservative views on both economic and social issues.”

Nicol C. Rae of Florida International University sees the tea party as a populist rebellion reacting not just to Obama, but also to “the failure of the Republican Party in power from 2001-2006 when it controlled the White House and both houses of Congress and yet did little to fulfill the conservative political agenda.”
Rick Perry is capitalizing on this sentiment, casting himself as an outsider to Washington politics. In Nevada, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, tea party support is helping Perry:

Even before Perry puts a boot on the ground here as a candidate, he is leading Romney in the most recent poll.

The survey by the GOP firm Magellan Strategies has Perry leading Romney 29 percent to 24 percent among 631 Nevada Republicans likely to take part in the caucuses set for Feb. 18.

Herman Cain had 7 percent backing, Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul 6 percent each and Newt Gingrich 5 percent, while Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman came in with 1 percent apiece. The auto-dial survey was taken at the end of August. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.

Perry is getting much of his support from the tea party movement of conservatives. Among tea party members, who made up almost half of those polled, the Texas governor led Romney, 36 percent to 16 percent.

Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada, said the tea party swing to Perry "should be scary to Romney. It says that Perry is resonating with people who are not necessarily in his cadre" and who are motivated to become active.

Peplowski said Perry can't afford to wait long to establish a beachhead here: "Perry will be making a mistake if he assumes he can maintain these numbers without creating a presence on the ground."