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
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
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
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
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
On GPS (Jan 22nd episode), Fareed Zakaria asked “what happened to the Tea Party?” suggesting that it may have disappeared. While posing the question to his guests, “The end of the Tea Party?” appeared at the bottom of the television screen. His guest, David Frum, said that the “Tea Party failed to provide an alternative to Romney,” while his other guest, Steven Rattner, proclaimed that “the Tea Party lost its mojo.” Has the Tea Party run out of steam?
To answer this question, it is important to ask, “Whose Tea Party is it?” Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson’s recent book on the Tea Party highlights the dynamic relationship between local grassroots Tea Partiers and the movement’s elite actors and organizations. The relationship is symbiotic, as Skocpol and Williamson discuss in their chapter titled “Mobilized Grassroots and Roving Billionaires.” The mobilization of discontent at the grassroots served as an opportunity for existing ultra-conservative elite organizations to advance their cause. At the same time, local Tea Party groups benefited from the resources of these organizations and the media attention they received. Nonetheless, there are tensions between grassroots activists and national organizations particularly since some local Tea Partiers are suspicious of larger national elite groups and worry about losing local autonomy. Continue reading
By Edwin Amenta
Social movements seek social change, often through politics. With Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in the news since October, it is time to take stock of its political impact: Has it had any influence? If so, what accounts for its influence or lack thereof? Is it likely to be influential in the future? Anyone seeking to assess the impact of social movements has to ask a counterfactual question: What likely would have happened had the movement or protest campaign not existed or taken the specific actions that it did.
Results of a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute were released yesterday that draw a profile of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. The poll finds that about a quarter of Americans identify with the values of the OWS movement, and about the same number identify with the values of the Tea Party movement. On the other hand, close to half feel that neither group shares their values.
The demographics of the supporters of each movement vary widely. Some of these variations are unsurprising. For instance, Democrats and liberals more often support OWS than the TPM, with the converse also being true. Also, the only religious affiliation that is correlated with supporting the TPM over OWS is white evangelical, while other religious affiliations are associated either with equal support for the two groups or with preference for OWS.
However, there are a few findings that are less obvious and that have important implications for both movements. First, twice as many political moderates express support for OWS compared to the TPM, a statistic that suggests that the OWS might be doing a better job of speaking for “middle America” than the TPM at this point in time. Also, in terms of the potential impact of the two movements on electoral politics, there is a significant difference in voter registration between supporters of the two groups, with ten percent more TPM supporters registered to vote than OWS supporters. While both movements have sought to exert political pressure through means other than voting, the lower registration rates among OWS supporters may be an important piece of the puzzle in the 2012 general election.
We like to believe in the power of social movements. It is satisfying to think that a relatively small group of people can band together and change the world for the better. However, as Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport point out in their new book, Digitally Enabled Social Change, the role of social movements and the organizations that animate them are up for grabs in the 21st century. This observation may come as somewhat of a shock for students of social movements. We often think about collective action and social movements as synonymous with organization as the sinew binding the two conceptually. Earl and Kimport argue that this is not always the case. Instead, they suggest, that Internet Communication Technology (ICT) provides “affordances” that individuals and groups alike can leverage (with more or less skill) to achieve a goal. In this digital era, then, challenges to authorities can occur without social movement organizations and outside of social movements.
Conceptualizing ICT as offering affordances that can be leveraged Continue reading