You’re rolling your eyes right now. This is old news. And you’re probably right. Those on the left decided long ago that the Tea Partiers are a bunch of racists and radicals. If you watch CNN, MSNBC or follow any of the leftwing media, they’ve done a great job of displaying the racism that exists within the movement. Matter of fact, that’s been the overriding theme of most of the media. If MSNBC is your only news source, you would think that only a few dozen people show up at the Tea Party rallies, and that they all carry signs denigrating blacks and President Obama for being black. On the other side, Fox News shows thousands at the Tea Party rallies, and rarely shows a negative moment.
The truth? As usual, it’s somewhere in-between.
Before I get into the surveys, I guess I should share my pre-conceived opinion about the Tea Party. I have said for months that the left has failed to understand the Tea Party movement, and to this day they are still confused by it. The core belief of the Tea Party revolves around fiscal conservatism — smaller government and lower taxes. They believe in the Constitution, and self-reliance. My personal reservation about the Tea Party is the number of social conservatives that are involved, and the overriding religious theme that always seems to show up with social conservatives. My personal assumption, and I guess my personal bias, is that while the Tea Party itself is not about racism, there’s certainly a racist element within the party. And that it was possibly more pervasive in the party than in the country at large.
The bottom line is that if you put one hundred random white people in a room, several are going to be racists. It’s a sad and simple truth. So is the Tea Party racist? That depends on two things. One, is racism a core belief of the Tea Party itself? My feeling on this has always been no, that the Tea Party is about fiscal conservatism. And two, if it’s not the party’s platform, is racism MORE prevalent in the Tea Party than the general population?
Aaaahhh, now THAT’S the important question.
And the Survey Says
There were a couple polls that came out earlier this year that certainly seemed to suggest that racism is prevalent in the Tea Party. One was from CBS/New York Times, and the other from the University of Washington. I would suggest reading both of these as there’s a number of interesting things you’ll learn from them.
The problem with these two polls? They didn’t do a very good job of comparing their findings on the Tea Party to the white population at large. And without this comparison, the data is incomplete. It wasn’t until this week that I found this look at the data provided by Real Clear Politics. This is also worth reading. Here’s a piece of the article from RCP:
In a Salon.com article titled “The Tea Partiers’ racial paranoia,” editor Joan Walsh notes that in the University of Washington poll, only 35% of pro-Tea Party whites regarded blacks as “hard-working,” 45% as “intelligent,” and 41% as “trustworthy.” Walsh scoffs, “And Tea Party supporters don’t like it when anyone notices the racists in their midst?”
Not so fast. The respondents in the UW poll were asked to rate on a 1-7 scale how intelligent, hardworking, and trustworthy they perceived “almost all” blacks (and, in separate questions, whites, Latinos, and Asians) to be. Whether the findings expose Tea Party bigotry hinges on two things: how the “Tea Partiers'” opinions of blacks compare to their views of other groups, and how their answers compare to those of other, non-Tea-Partying Americans.
The UW researchers’ initial analysis compared only whites who were strongly pro-Tea Party and strongly anti-Tea Party, concluding that the latter held a much more positive view of blacks. These data are no longer on the UW website; instead, there are tables for other race-related questions (such as “Over the past few years blacks have gotten less than they deserve”), with separate results for whites who were either neutral toward the Tea Party movement or had never heard of it, as well as for all whites.
But what about the racial stereotyping items? The lead investigator, political science professor Christopher Parker, graciously provided me with the fuller data — which strongly contradict the notion of the Tea Parties as a unique hotbed of racism.
Thus, while only 35% of strong Tea Party supporters rated blacks as hardworking, only 49% described whites as such. While the gap is evident, these responses are close to those for all whites (blacks are rated as “hardworking” by 40%, whites by 52%). While whites who are strongly anti-Tea Party seem free of bias on this item — blacks and whites are rated as “hardworking” by 55% and 56%, respectively – this is not true for intelligence and trustworthiness. Whites in every group are less likely to rate blacks than whites as “intelligent” by similar margins: 14 points for Tea Party supporters (45% vs. 59%), 13 points for all whites (49% vs. 62%), 10 points for Tea Party opponents (59% vs. 69%). On “trustworthy,” the gap is smaller in the pro-Tea Party group (41% vs. 49%) than in the anti-Tea Party group (57% vs. 72%). One could write headlines about the “racial paranoia” of white liberals who consider blacks less trustworthy than whites!
The endurance of racial stereotypes in this day and age is disturbing; but Tea Party supporters differ little in this regard from mainstream Americans.
There is no room for racism in our country, and it should ALWAYS be condemned. The Tea Party was slow to condemn the fringe, racial element within their movement, and it’s hurt their reputation. But this is a young and fledgling movement with no central control. And the data does not suggest that the Tea Party is any more or less racist than the country itself. The left can continue to call them racists and radicals, but it’s not working. The country isn’t buying it. Believing in a smaller, less intrusive government is not a radical idea. Unless you’re on the left.