Category Archives: Tea Party and the Primaries

The March essay dialogue focuses on the role of the Tea Party movement in the 2012 Republican Primaries. Contributors were asked to address such questions as: How has the Tea Party approached the primaries? And, What impact, if any, is the Tea Party likely to have on the outcome of the Republican contest?

The Gravitational Force in the Republican Party

By Theda Skocpol

Pundits have shifted their assessments of Tea Party clout with each swing of the pendulum in the GOP primary season — starting with debates even before the voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond.  Either the Tea Party is said to be flexing its muscles, beating the “GOP establishment.” Or it is declared to be falling apart and failing to register much impact.   The fortunes of Mitt Romney seem to determine which assessment is the favor of the day: if he does poorly, the Tea Party is strong; if he wins, the Tea Party is proving to be a paper tiger.

The trouble with all such assessments is twofold. First, they focus too much on the horse-race, attempting to label some candidates “Tea Partiers” and others “establishment” — while missing the big picture of the race to the right by all candidates in the GOP race.  And secondly, such assessments mistakenly hold the Tea Party to a standard it cannot meet.  Let me begin with the latter point, and come back to the former. Continue reading


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February Essay Dialogue: The Tea Party and the Republican Primaries

The race toward the nomination of a Republican presidential candidate seems to be narrowing but could see its most heated days ahead. Since it has arguably played an important role in recent national elections, one wonders how the Tea Party is shaping the Republican primaries and whether the movement will have a decisive role in the contest.

This month, Mobilizing Ideas has invited scholars and activists to weigh in on this topic in the midst of the 2012 primary season. Contributors incorporate public opinion data, survey data, social movement theory, intuition gained from years of studying movements, and activist experience to offer various perspectives on the role of the Tea Party in the Republican primaries.  The essays touch on the Tea Party’s enduring/waning influence on Republican discourse,  the tactics of the movement from an activist’s perspective, how Tea Party Republicans differ from Establishment Republicans, the relationship of the movement to various candidates, the future of the Tea Party, and other aspects of this fascinating movement.

We would like to thank the following distinguished scholars and activists for contributing to this dialogue:

Neal Caren, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (essay)
Tina Fetner, McMaster University (essay)
Richard Lloyd and Steven Tepper, Vanderbilt University (essay)
David Meyer, University of California, Irvine (essay)
Chris Parker, University of Washington (essay)
Theda Skocpol, Harvard University (essay)
Jenni White, Tea Party activist, R.O.P.E (essay)

Thank you for supporting Mobilizing Ideas.  Happy reading!

Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, and Dan Myers
Editors in Chief

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How will the Tea Party influence the Republican primaries?

By Richard Lloyd and Steven Tepper

In order to think about the influence of the Tea Party it is first important to understand the “essence” of the movement.  What is the nature of its supporters’ discontent? How coherent are their political and policy goals? Is it something new on the political landscape that is forcing a realignment within the Republican Party?

Research conducted with Andy Perrin, Neal Caren, Steven Tepper and Sally Morris, concludes that the Tea Party phenomena – from the perspective of public support – is a case of “old wine” in a “new bottle.”  Continue reading

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Crashing the (Republican) Party: The Tea Party and the Republican Primaries

By Chris Parker

Most people are familiar with the Tea Party by now, a movement that burst onto the political scene in the early days of the Obama presidency. There is little doubt that they’ve energized the Republican Party. Consider the 2010 midterm election cycle. A report issued by Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights indicates that 10 sitting Republican senators were backed by one of the six major Tea Party factions, as were 85 members of the House. Still, if the ongoing Republican primaries are in any way indicative, a rift has developed between the Republican “establishment” and Republican insurgents: “grassroots” conservatives associated with Tea Party. In both South Carolina and Florida, establishment types appear to favor Mitt Romney, while strong Tea Party types, by and large, favor Newt Gingrich. What is the source of the rift? If there is a division between the two wings of the Republican Party, how big is it? Continue reading


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How will the Tea Party affect the Presidential election? It already has.

By Tina Fetner

After making a strong push to in the 2010 Congressional midterm elections, the Tea Party was perceived by some to be unstoppable, by others to be falling apart at the seams. However, the political power held by this movement (or at least, their perceived power) made a major impact on the candidate selection process for the Republican presidential nomination. The primary battle currently underway, in which Republican grassroot supporters, party insiders and political pundits embrace and then discard candidate after candidate suggests that the Tea Party has, at least temporarily, loosened the Republican Party leadership’s grip on the political process.  Continue reading


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Tea Party Republicans: What the Polls Say

By Neal Caren

In order to understand the potential influence of the Tea Party Movement on the Republican Party, it is useful to locate its supporters within the Republican Party and the overall spectrum of American politics. One useful and underutilized tool for doing this is the data from a weekly poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for DailyKos/SEIU. They have been collecting data since the beginning of 2011, and place the raw data on the web when they report their results, which is usually every Wednesday. In addition to the normal questions found on campaign polls, the survey has asked whether the respondent was a member of the Tea Party (from January to October) or whether the respondent was a supporter of the Tea Party (from October to the present). From this polling data, we can make a couple of inferences on the type of impact that the Tea Party is likely to have on the Republican primaries this year. Continue reading


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Civic Education – A Tangible Commodity in the 2012 Presidential Election

By Jenni White

September of 2009, I rode a veritable river through the streets of Washington, D.C. toward our nations’ capitol. I recall unmatched feelings of both awe and amazement as I watched Americans of every shape and size, color and age, stream from every side street, pouring into the ever-growing sea of bodies pressing toward the Capitol grounds. Nearly every citizen carried a hand-printed sign – cobbled together in their hotel room with anything they could find at Walgreens on Connecticut Avenue – that mirrored the frustration and purpose on their face in some inventively snarky and hilarious way. Continue reading


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The Tea Party and American Politics: Origins, Outcomes, and Perverse Effects

By David Meyer

Protest movements sometimes have perverse effects, hastening outcomes they don’t want.  The contest for the Republican presidential nomination has to be scored as a disappointment for the broad Tea Party movement, and perhaps a sign of its dissolution.

Social movements capture the imagination of participants and audiences, engaging and enlarging our sense of the possible.  But, particularly in liberal systems, movements that succeed in reaching mainstream public discourse are ultimately consumed by it. Continue reading

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