Since its inception back in 2010, critics of the tea party have claimed the conservative movement was motivated wholly or in part by racial animus towards President Barack Obama. Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond, for instance, recently described the tea party as an “admittedly racist” movement “who’ve tried as best they can to harm President Obama in every way they can.”
New research published online in Race and Social Problems suggests the racial politics surrounding the tea party movement are highly nuanced. The researchers found no difference between the racial attitudes of the general white population and self-identified tea party members. Those who had a favorable view of the tea party, on the other hand, were in fact more likely to admit to holding anti-black sentiments.
“Clearly, an African-American, mixed-race, liberal President may trigger symbolic racism and even racial stereotypes among the population at large,” Angie Maxwell from the University of Arkansas and Wayne Parent from Louisiana State University wrote in their study. But the evidence suggests the tea party wasn’t simply a racist reaction, though racists appear to be drawn to the movement.
The study was based on a 2010 survey of 3,406 Americans. As expected, a statistical analysis found tea party members were more likely to be older, conservative, Republican, disagree with the economic stimulus, worry about the federal budget deficit, and disapprove of Obama. The researchers found racial animus had “no direct effects” on tea party membership.
Maxwell and Parent, however, did find that negative attitudes towards African Americans and racial stereotypes were linked to disapproval of Obama, suggesting an potential indirect link between racial animus and tea party membership.
The link between racial animus and favorable opinions of the tea party movement was clearer. Tea party supporters were more likely than the general white population to agree with statements like, “It is really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites” and disagree with statements like, “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
These results coincide with previous research, which found tea party supporters held negative attitudes about African Americans, Hispanic Americans and LGBT Americans. Unlike past research, the present study found a difference between tea party supporters and actual tea party members.
“These distinctions demonstrate that the ‘subterranean agenda’ of the tea party may be different among members and among those who admire the general movement from afar,” Maxwell and Parent concluded. “What the tea party means to its members and what it represents to the large public may, in fact, not be the same thing.”
[“Tea Party Protesters Peacefully Assembled To Voice Their Concern Over Government Spending On April 15, 2010 In Pensacola, Florida.” on Shutterstock]