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Crashing the Tea Party

David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam wrote an interesting op-ed for The New York Times that looks into the Tea Party from an angle not often covered: the people who would go on to form it. The Tea Party’s origin is often glossed over or assumed in media coverage as people new to politics who were mad about taxes or something or other. Campbell and Putnam actually interviewed people before and after the movement got underway, giving them real information about the folks who would join the Tea Party:

Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As 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.

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s “origin story.” Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? … [T]hey 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.

It’d be nice if they gave crosstabs and such instead of just summarizing without any numbers. Their result here does seem compelling though, both shocking and yet not really shocking at all if you think about what the Republicans who were swept into office by the Tea Party wave have actually been doing as opposed to what they said they’d do.