Tea Partiers Wonder: What's In It For Me?


It might be a mathematical necessity, that as the Tea Party idea/movement/self-identification grows, the more it will end up seeming like America itself. See these interesting poll results from the Winston Group, which polled 1,000 registered voters from December to February and found around 17 percent identifying themselves as Tea Partiers, with a majority–but not a huge majority, 57 percent–identifying themselves as Republicans. And while "libertarian" does not appear to have been a choice the polled were given in pigeonholing themselves ideologically, only 65 percent of the Tea Partiers (as opposed to 33 percent of all those polled) called themselves "conservative."

Tea Partiers are also more likely than all polled to be older, and to be men. They tend to be more middle-class, and to watch Fox. But what do they want, politically? A sample:

Put simply, the Tea Party movement espouses economic conservative values. This impacts their priorities in terms of policy.  When asked to name their top issue, rather than prioritize a variety of items, Tea Party members again assert their economic conservatism. While voters overall are extremely concerned with the economy and jobs, Tea Party members are over twice as likely to name "national deficit/spending" as their top issue.  The economy remains a top priority, but concern about the deficit is pronounced with this group, underscoring the unifying thread of economic conservatism that runs through the Tea Party movement. Additional questions illustrate that the Tea Party movement strongly links deficit with economic outcomes and as a result, the concern about the deficit/spending is a subset of concerns under economy and jobs….

Tea Party members are more concerned about rates of taxation and see more negative
consequences to increased taxes.  In the December 2009 New Models survey, when asked if they are "aware of anything that might occur to federal tax rates next year," some 56% of Tea Party members say that next year "taxes will go up/tax cuts will expire," a response given by only 33% of respondents overall. They also identify a personal consequence: 82% say that when tax provisions expire next year, taxes on people like them will increase, compared to 62% of overall respondents…..

Despite the concern over taxing and spending, there is tension that exists as a result of balancing the priorities of fiscal conservatism and job creation….when Tea Party members are asked to choose between two desirable  outcomes—a balanced budget or a 5% unemployment rate—their choice is no different from the  electorate as a whole….

In the abstract, the deficit is a serious concern of Tea Party members, yet a concrete reduction in unemployment is able to outweigh that concern. However, for many Tea Party members, it is precisely those fiscally conservative items like lower taxes and spending that will enable the economy to create jobs. Tax cuts are the preferred job creation strategy for Tea Party members….concern about the deficit remains closely tied to concern about the economy/jobs—because the deficit issue is linked to tangible economic outcomes.

At least among these polled, the Tea Partiers sound more like a new Perot movement–ideologically mixed disgruntled folk upset about government spending and taxes for personal reasons–than a burgeoning ideologically anti-state libertarian-leaning movement. This is not surprising, but it's interesting to see some solid-seeming polling on the question.

Selling libertarianism as of direct personal relevance/ benefit to the voter has long been a prescription of those who care about libertarian electoral victories; this poll seems to add weight to that belief. As to how to convince the average voter that a more libertarian government would be better for them, well, that seems like the same ideological and economic educational mission that the modern movement started with in the late 1940s with the founding of the Foundation for Economic Education, the first distinctly modern libertarian organization.