David Kirby, Vice President at FreedomWorks, and myself have a new op-ed published in Politico today discussing our research of the tea party movement. We argue the tea party has pursued a strategy that is functionally libertarian, by generally avoiding divisive social issues and sticking to economic issues.

Our evidence shows the tea party has thus far remained functionally libertarian because roughly half of its constituents are economically conservative and socially moderate to liberal. The other half of the tea party is made up of both economically and socially conservative voters. Although these two groups don’t agree on social issues, they are both significantly more conservative on economic issues than their non-tea party Republican counterparts.

We also find evidence that tea party libertarians provided early energy for the tea party movement. Using American National Election Studies 2008-2010 panel data we find that:

“Starting in early 2008 through the early tea parties, libertarians were more than twice as 'angry' with the Republican Party as social conservatives; more pessimistic about the economy and deficit during the Bush years, and more frustrated that people like them cannot affect government. Libertarians, including young people who supported Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, provided much of the early energy for the tea party and spread the word through social media.”

The conventional wisdom for at least two decades has held that Republican primaries are won by emphasizing social issues to win over social conservatives. Some point to Rick Santorum’s rise in the presidential polls earlier this year as current evidence. However exit polls reveal that Santorum never won a majority of the tea party vote in any primary with a poll. Moreover, mounting examples in Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, Wisconsin, and Texas suggest that Republican candidates must increasingly reach out to Ron Paul and tea party supporters on economic issues in order to win.

Read more at politico.com