Race, The Tea Party And Conservatism

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My column last Sunday (paywalled!) was about the the unbearable whiteness of being a Republican. Well, not quite unbearable, but hugely damaging when trying to construct a political majority in 21st century America. Calling this racial imbalance "racism" is offensive and too crude an explanation. But it can result from a form of cultural isolation that becomes invisible to its participants. Not all Republicans are in this trap, of course. But the Tea Party sure is. Now we have some interesting new data on that. The Multi-State Survey of Race and Politics (2011) has just conducted a poll of 1500 Republican voters in interviews that lasted an average of 40 minutes. Two distinct camps emerged: Tea Party and non-Tea Party. This captures the divide:

More than twice as many Tea Party conservatives desire to see the president’s policies fail (76%) than non-Tea Party conservatives (32%). (As a corollary, 53% of non-Tea Party conservatives wish to see the president’s policies succeed versus 18% of Tea Party conservatives.) Why might this be the case? Why do so many Tea Party conservatives wish to see the president’s policies fail, relative to non-Tea Party conservatives? Perhaps it’s because three quarters (75 %) of Tea Party conservatives believe that President Obama’s policies are socialist compared to 40% of non-Tea Party conservative, a disparity of 35 % points.

The study then examined how susceptible the respondents were to core Tea Party themes - on Obama's birth certificate, religion, etc. Then they threw race into the mix:

If the interviewer was perceived as white, conservatives were less likely say “don’t know” or “no opinion” than if the interviewer was perceived as non-white. In the latter case, respondents were far more likely to opt for these options. We also found that conservatives were more likely to view President Obama as alien if they believed themselves to be interviewed by someone white than a non-white interviewer.

One part of the Tea Party's appeal is its ethnic solidarity, wrapped up in nostalgia, paranoia and fear. It makes a powerful package. But a doomed one.

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