We won’t know the true power or meaning of the Tea Party movement until the November midterm elections.

In a blog entry of February 28, I said that the mainstream media was paying too much attention to the Tea Party movement.  I stated rather bluntly that at that point, the impact of the Tea Party was zero.  This statement came before the primaries in which Tea Party candidates have tended to do ill against other Republicans running for office.

Earlier this week, Carville-Greenberg released an in-depth study of Tea Party adherents that pretty much substantiates my view that the Tea Party has had little if any impact, which I now want to amend to say, no impact of its own.  I’ll explain that caveat later.   

The Carville-Greenberg study is very interesting and worth looking at.  Here, though, are the findings that support my contention that the Tea Party has had no impact of its own:

  • 89% of Tea Partiers lean towards the Republican party.
  • Only 5% of Teas report having voted for Barack Obama.
  • Total Tea adherents are 25% of voters and 10% of those who give to political parties or attend rallies.

In other words, no matter what pundits might be saying, the Tea Party is not made up swing voters, but of people who were always going to vote Republican and never going to vote for Obama or most other Democrats.  So where’s the impact? 

Some might say that the Tea Partiers have moved the country right.  It is true that they have moved the Republican Party right by helping more right-wing candidates win.  But in the general election, the more right-wing candidate may not have the advantage in a battle for the swing voters who decide many elections.

While recent polls show dissatisfaction with President Obama, I believe our deteriorating economic conditions, and not an upswell in Tea Party adherents, has been the primary reason for the decline of the President’s ratings.  Again, the Tea Partiers never liked our President and so none of their votes changed in the recent surveys. 

The biggest impact of the Tea Party so far derives not in itself or its members but in its symbolic value to the mainstream news media, which from the beginning has given the Tea Party movement outsized coverage and exaggerated its influence.  In the infancy of the Tea Party movement, the mainstream media republished unsubstantiated and absurd overestimates of attendance at a ragtag Tea march in Washington, D.C.  In the recent primaries, the media gave outsized coverage to Republican races with Tea-tied candidates while in many cases ignoring the Democratic primary races.  Mainstream reporters essentially hushed up the verbal miscues of Rand Paul and Sharron Angle until after the primaries.  The result of placing the spotlight on the extreme right 25% of the country to the detriment of coverage of other parts of the political spectrum has been to move the debate right-ward on virtually all the issues under discussion in the media.

At the end of the day, we won’t know what the real impact of the Tea Party movement is until November.  Carville-Greenberg says that 94% of Tea Partiers are certain to vote, certainly a higher percentage than will vote among the core 25% that affiliate strongly with the Democratic Party.  But what’s new about that?  The core Republican constituency has always been more likely to vote than the Democratic core.  Elections have therefore usually turned on two dynamics:

  • Who captures the independents
  • Will the Democrats get their supporters to vote.

I’m predicting that the extreme positions of Tea Party candidates will drive centrists to Democratic candidates and compel many who would have stayed home to come to the polls to vote against the right-wing extremists. 

That doesn’t mean the Democrats will necessarily prevail and maintain control of both houses of Congress.  The most important issue remains the economy.  If I were the Democrats I would do two things: 1) Make sure that the Administration was pouring all discretionary money into job creation and help for the unemployed; 2) Before putting together any advertising budget for fall campaigns, make certain enough money is set aside to have lots of vans and drivers to haul voters on election days to the polls from every senior center, community center, YMCA, university and public library in every urban area across the country.

One comment on “We won’t know the true power or meaning of the Tea Party movement until the November midterm elections.
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