Surprisingly, the survey reveals Tea Partiers to be slightly more economically secure than the general population. Combine those findings with the fact that Tea Partiers are a well-educated cohort, and the narrative that the Tea Partiers are a bunch of pitchfork populist rubes becomes harder to maintain. ~Steven Hayward
This isn’t really a surprise. For one thing, those who are more economically secure are probably paying more in taxes, and therefore are more likely to object to taxes more strongly, and they also probably have more time to engage in more intense political activism. It also makes sense that relatively economically secure people on the right are going to take a dimmer view of government spending than their more economically insecure fellow conservatives.
Indeed, the only people who seem to want to maintain the narrative of “pitchfork populism” are the activists and pundits who claim to be sympathetic to the movement. If the movement is a backlash from the conservative base and constitutes just 18% of the population, that makes it a bit harder to explain as the natural “pushback” of a “center-right” country against an unwelcome center-left agenda. Liberals are perfectly happy to point out that the movement does not have much populist credibility. Michael Lind states in the same symposium, “Pitchfork-wielding populists like William Jennings Bryan they are not.” Peter Beinart argues that the movement has nothing to do with populism, and as far as economic populism is concerned he is basically correct:
They’re not today’s version of the Nebraska dirt farmers who rose up against the railroads and the banks more than a century ago. They’re today’s version of the California suburbanites who rose up against their property tax bills in the late 1970s rather than pay for decent schools for the Golden State’s black and Hispanic kids. They’re the second coming of what Robert Kuttner called “the revolt of the haves.”
Again, this isn’t surprising. Self-identifying conservatives tend to look askance at economic populism, and the more ideological and activist they are the more intense their dislike of economic populists.
Hayward goes from making a poor observation to simply making a false claim:
The fact that so many Tea Partiers are new to political participation suggests that, like the Perot voters of 1992 who were said to represent the “angry middle,” a plurality of Tea Partiers are moderates who are simply shocked by Obama’s great leap forward in the size of government [bold mine-DL].
It is possible that there is some overlap between former Perot voters and Tea Partiers, but it is simply untrue to say that a plurality of them is moderate. As I said earlier today, 20% in the survey to which Hayward is responding identified as ideologically moderate, 34% identified as “somewhat” conservative, and 39% identified as “very conservative.” So, the truth is that a plurality of Tea Partiers self-identifies as very conservative, and they identify as “very conservative” at over three times the rate of the general public. That doesn’t make their complaints invalid, and it doesn’t make their preferred policies wrong, but couldn’t we at least acknowledge the real identity of the movement in question?
It’s true that 56% of Tea Party respondents said that they had never been active in a political campaign before, but that isn’t quite the same as saying that they are “new to political participation.” 97% of the Tea Party respondents said they are registered to vote. For that matter, the involvement of the vast majority of respondents who identified with the Tea Party has mostly been passive: only 20% say they have donated money or attended rallies, so most of the Tea Partiers who have never been active in political campaigns before now have also not become active in movement events.