Wither the Tea Party? The Future of a Political Movement

In the midst of the Congressional primaries taking place across America this summer, the Tea Party’s history continues to be written. Tea Party membership and funding have continued to grow over the last year, yet the media has proclaimed the Tea Party dead no less than 18 times. In this paper, Christopher S. Parker asks whether the Tea Party is an “astroturf” or “grassroots” political movement. Parker argues for the latter, demonstrating that the Tea Party has real staying power in the current political climate.

Parker uses the motivations of the Tea Party to assess how they will evolve during upcoming midterms and the 2016 general election. He argues that some Tea Party conservatives are neither ignorant nor ideological, but instead fearful: anxious that traditional American values are being replaced by more socially liberal ideals. To test whether Tea Party conservatives are acting ideologically or fearfully, he asks a series of survey questions to both establishment conservatives and Tea Party conservatives and finds the following:

  • Six percent of establishment conservatives believe Obama poses an existential threat as compared to 71 percent of Tea Party conservatives.
  • 38 percent of establishment conservatives are rooting for Obama to fail as compared to 78 percent of Tea Party conservatives.
  • 59 percent of establishment conservatives reject health care reform as compared to 93 percent of Tea Party conservatives.

Parker explains that since the Tea Party’s origin aligns with the election of President Barack Obama, it is likely that Tea Party conservatives are reacting out of fear of the perceived “change to America” signified by President Obama’s election. He also says that as the presidential election in 2016 approaches, with candidate Hillary Clinton in the front running, anti-feminists typical of the Tea Party group will likely have a negative, although muted, reaction to her candidacy and presidency.  Parker writes that the only thing that will truly ground the Tea Party Conservatives might be the election of a white male Democratic candidate in 2016.