The Tea Party

Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
The Tea Party

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The Tea Party is a loosely coordinated right-wing political upsurge that began in the first weeks of the administration of President Barack Obama. Tea Party symbolism was adopted by three intersecting conservative political forces: grassroots activists, right-wing media, and ultra-free-market advocacy and funding organizations supported by wealthy and corporate interests. Under the banner of the Tea Party, these three forces protested Obama administration priorities, reshaped public debates, and pushed the Republican Party farther to the right. In early 2009, conservative media helped scattered grassroots conservatives rapidly create a dramatic identity, share information, and build a sense of momentum for their new “Tea Party” protests. These protestors soon began to organize what became about one thousand local groups. These activists—conservatives at the rightward edge of the Republican Party—tend to be older, white, and slightly better educated and economically more comfortable than other Americans. Many are social conservatives, but a sizable minority describe themselves as libertarian and are more secular in orientation. Like many Americans of their generation, Tea Party participants often collect federal social benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, and benefits for military veterans. Although they express deep concern about government spending, Tea Partiers believe their own benefits are legitimate. They oppose spending taxpayer money on people they perceive as undeserving, such as unauthorized immigrants, low-income people, minorities, and the young. President Obama is perceived by Tea Party members as acting in the interest of the undeserving at the expense of hardworking Americans. Grassroots activists often engage in political activity on the local or state level, but they have little capacity to hold accountable the national political leaders who have associated themselves with the Tea Party label. The conservative resurgence under the Tea Party banner has had important ramifications for the balance of power within the Republican Party. Far-right elites who have been promoting a low-tax, anti-regulation agenda since the 1970s were quick to connect themselves with the Tea Party protests and to claim grassroots support for their own ideology and policy goals, including privatization of Social Security and Medicare. Popular Tea Party forces are more likely than elites, however, to oppose immigration reforms including any path to citizenship for undocumented residents. Elites claiming to speak for the Tea Party have provided crucial endorsements and funding to far-right Republican candidates. In 2010, Tea Party–linked candidates were primarily successful in Republican strongholds. The more extreme views of Republicans who won elections in 2010 propelled the GOP further rightward, extending a long-term trend of rightward-tilted polarization in US politics.

Article.  2625 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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