I’ll admit it: just the fact that the story is coming from the New York Times gives me pause.
But there it is: “Crashing the Tea Party,” by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, a couple of professors who think they have profiled Tea Party members based on some wide ranging research.
The results are provocative and, if they are in any way correct, indicate that Tea Party members are less naïve about politics than previously thought, tend to hold a low regard for immigrants, and very religious, even wanting leaders who mix religion and politics ….which explains why Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry are getting good reviews from the Tea Party.
Oh, also they are more likely to be Republican.
Whatever the characteristics, Campbell and Putnam suggest that it has contributed to giving the Tea Party a lower approval among the public than atheists and Muslims. Ouch.
...because blondes have more fun.
But wait! There’s more: the Tea Party is not necessarily a creature of the recession. Tea Party members tend to have already been (as well as being white) very conservative and active Republicans.
Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.
More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.
Hmm…so how about that ‘separation between church and state’ thing? The Tea Party does know that it was one of their darlings, Mr. Thomas Jefferson himself, that was one of the first to actually phrase it that way, right?
I don’t know about you, Reader, but the last thing I think we need is a litmus test for an elected official the measures religiosity. I would rather an atheist that upholds the law and defends the practice of religion over a deeply religious nut job person who discriminates in favor of his or her faith. Of course, if we could find a deeply religious person who upholds the law (and doesn’t err on the side of larger government), then I probably wouldn’t mind. But then, it has nothing to do with religiosity, and we’re back at my main point: religion is the wrong litmus test for a leader.
Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) led 30,000 Christians in prayer Saturday -- at an event that may boost his fortunes with the GOP's critical bloc of evangelical voters. Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images
And yet, Campbell and Putnam suggest that this very litmus test is the likely reason for Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry’s success in recent weeks with the Tea Party.
And what about the libertarians that are finding common cause with the Tea Party? I don’t see them reflected in the research discussion or results. In my experience, libertarians are just about growing on Republican trees these days, but they would be the last people to support increased religion in politics.
Which leads me to Campbell and Putnam’s method. The two professors (Campbell is an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame and Putnam is a professor of public policy at Harvard) interviewed 3,000 people in 2006 as part of continuing research into national political attitudes. They returned to the same people this year. They explain that
[a]s a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously — isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.
Perhaps. I’d like to take a closer look at the results to find out what kind of questions were asked, how the people were selected, and what the margins of error were.
In any case…
Even as a Republican, and a long time Republican at that, it would be disingenuous for me to dismiss these findings out of hand. While I don’t find them to be definitive, I do find the results descriptive. Utah’s Tea Party may be distinct in some respects due to some characteristics that are uniquely local, but in many respects the results seem to apply here.
On the other hand, could this just be Tea Party bait by New York Times liberals?
Religious litmus test or not, elections are not about rationality, but winning, and if it takes that to win, could we expect anyone but a deeply religious person to win the race for the Republican nomination?
Read the full article at “Crashing the Tea Party” in the New York Times.