Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Will the Tea Party Matter?

If the GOP becomes synonymous with the Tea Party, the GOP would lose big-time. The Tea Party, as various evidence of polling data is showing, is to the right of the median voter by quite a bit. On some issues, like immigration, the Tea Party takes particularly divisive stands. On the other hand, the Tea Party is the big political story of 2010. It's where all the energy is. Its organizers have taken pages from the Obama 2008 playbook and have generated national movement enthusiasm. In many ways, the Tea Party reminds me of the Howard Dean movement in 2004 in terms of its political salience.

But the Tea Party isn't socially conservative, meaning it isn't all about fundamentalist Christians. Its members include many people with libertarian sympathies, and the anti-government message works as well for reproductive rights and gay rights as it does for gun rights and states' rights. It's sort of a populist movement in inspiration, something that crops up repeatedly in American politics, and that often plays in rural areas.

Will the Tea Party, then, translate into votes for GOP candidates in the Fall, even though those candidates are often hard-right social conservatives? It might. But I suspect it won't be too significant. The Tea Party isn't really well organized and it suffers from the fact that its roots are in disaffection and alienation, not great building blocks for continued political involvement. If the GOP is the Party of No, the Tea Party is the party of "Hell No." Well, that only gets you so far. The public votes for candidates, not against them. I expect large numbers of Tea Partiers to disgustedly sit home in the Fall of 2010 when the see GOP candidates who don't totally mirror their views.

I suspect that the high tide mark for the Tea Party will be the GOP primaries. And most of the "Tea Party" candidates will not win those primaries. After that, we will see the GOP try to coopt the enthusiasm while it cools. And as the economy returns and unemployed Tea Party members get jobs and go back to whatever they did before the Tea Party.


Raised By Republicans said...

I hope you are right. The problem may be that by tapping into a general discontent about the economy and whipping it into a frenzy, the Tea Party may do the Republicans' heavy lifting for them - and that is their great hope. That is, the Tea Party mob may get a lot of angry (and anti-incumbent) folks to the polls.

It is certainly true that they are an incoherent mob when it comes to policy preferences. But that hasn't been a particular concern for the GOP for a decade or more. Indeed, the GOP's inability to govern effectively a symptom of that same incoherence and anger.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I don't think that "anti-" groups and angry voters really drive elections that much. Remember in 1994 the anti-Clinton mood was powerful, but there was also a "Contract with America" that laid out a clear set of policy statements that were not social conservative issues. It didn't mention gays, didn't seek to repeal the Brady Bill, didn't mention God or prayer in schools or abortion, or illegal immigration.

The Tea Party isn't giving us that positive message. Whipping up the GOP base with anger will likely tip some close elections, and the fact that Obama is black will continue the Appalachian realignment away from the Dems. But negativity alone isn't not going to bring out independents and really cause electoral shifts.

And concerns over budget deficits only go so far. The bulk of voters never have cared very much.

What will really matter come election day, I think, is that bottom line number about Obama's popularity. His approval rating has sunk from inaugural highs to be about 50/50 today. Whether it continues to decline or not is going to depend on what happens in the next few months with the economy and on capitol hill, not what happened in the previous few months with health care or the economy. As I have suggested elsewhere, his agenda will be relatively populist through november and the economy will likely improve. That suggests that the approval rating will, at least, not move downward very far from here on out, and will likely rebound somewhat, particularly if he can find an issue or two that resonates with the public in the summertime.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think you're right about how it will impact marginal races. And those are geographically concentrated of course in areas where the anti-Obama and anti-incumbent feeling is strongest (the South and rural areas).

Raised By Republicans said...

I heard on NPR an analysis that anger at government is very widespread among self-identified independents.

The question will be, will they turn out. I think LTG is right to suspect that anger is a poor motivator for turnout.