will the tea party still be going when the next republican president shows up?

I’ve been having a discussion with Sean over the meaning of my latest paper, which shows that Democrats stopped showing up at antiwar rallies after Obama’s inauguration. Sean wrote: ” i am trying to unpack the assumptions that go into the idea of being “anti-bush” which are separate from being against his policies. of course, it could (should) go beyond the war: economy, social issues, budget priorities, tax policies, etc. but i think its reasonable to assume that his role in the war took center stage in the widespread anti-bushness of democrats.”

Here is what I wrote in response. I suggest at the end that if partisanship is a big factor in movement politics, you should see a huge GOP drop off at Tea Party demonstrations:

… Let’s say someone is extremely partisan, then they approve/vote for the person/party and not the policies. A simple example: many important elements of the Obama HCR were done in Massachussetts first by Romney, yet Romney criticized these very policies. It’s pretty obvious that he’s showing a preference for the people associated with the policies, not the policy itself.

In contrast, the issue driven person votes only for policies and not people or parties. The “peaceniks” you describe in the first comment fit this bill. As long as there is any presence at all in Iraq, they’ll be marching in the street, no matter who is the president.

Of course, in real life, there are few people at either extreme point of the spectrum. Probably the best description is that people make judgments on the bundle of people and policies. If your party is in power, you probably guess that they are pushing policies you like, or are doing the best they can with policies you don’t like. If it’s the opposite, you asssume that these policies just represent what’s so horrible about the other party.

From this perspective, you can then imagine antiwar crowds as being a mix of people: people for whom the war is just the worst aspect of an incompetent Republican presidency and those who are just anti-war in general. So when a democrat gets in, the partisans give him the benefit of the doubt, while the policy protesters stick to protest. So when the other party is in power, protest is an opportunity for an alliance between these two crowds and the opportunity makes no sense when there is a new government. And the regressions show bundling: self-identified democrats tend to give Obama a higher evaluation in his handling of the war than non-democrats. Democrats are more likely to say specific anti-Bush things and non-democrats are more likely to mentions their radical ideological perspective.

The real test of the hypothesis is if you see a similar shift in the Tea Party when the next GOP president comes in. Right now, I’d bet that you get a high proportion of GOPers at Tea Party events. If I am right, that should drop when a GOP president comes in and all you’ll be left with is anti-tax extremists and third party populists. If I am wrong, they will still rally in large numbers and insist that the new GOP president repeal HCR.

Anyone want to take a bet?


Written by fabiorojas

April 28, 2010 at 4:22 am

8 Responses

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  1. Sure. But let’s not pretend smarter people than tea party activists are immune to this problem. Paul Krugman worries much less about government debt today than he did ~seven years ago. This is also why social science never gets anywhere, and why I prefer talking about the politics of foreign countries.



    April 28, 2010 at 5:33 am

  2. i like your idea of the tea party experiment, but i see two problems with it:

    (1) (and this probably reveals too much of my own biases) i assume a good deal of those tea partiers who would drop off are anti-obama because they are racist. that, clearly, is a reason some people would be anti-obama, independent of their policy leanings.

    (2) (this reveals some biases too) i’d be interested in whether there is a difference in the number of ideologues relative to party-loyalists on either end of the spectrum. To be a true experiment, you’d want to assume that the number of die-hard (ideological) peaceniks relative to garden variety democrats is the same as the number of die-hard (ideological) free-marketers relative to garden variety republicans. my assumption is that ‘epistemic closure‘ is more rampant on the right in the US than it is on the left these days.



    April 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

  3. and i guess i’d add a third question:

    (3) are the issues commensurate with respect to their power to bring people into the streets? while many die hard free-marketers see the slide into socialism as fundamentally undermining the country over the long term, is the number who of people see the issue as important enough to protest as large as the number of people who were motivated to protest by the idea of sending soldiers to die for an illegal war? maybe, but i could see the argument being made that going to war stands on a plain by itself and therefore that it drove many more (fairly moderate) people (including me) into the streets than the tea party protests.

    i.e., not all policies are created equal, some are more fundamental than others.



    April 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  4. There’s a significant older literature, mostly about Europe, that generally shows that leftist protests decline when the left parties are in power. Some of it is lower grievance, but part of it is not challenging “your guys” when they are in power.



    April 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

  5. There is probably a more significant social organizational side to this. Right now your post seems to imply that some internalized motivation–either for party or idea–is driving high levels of attendance. Seansafford’s idea of the fundamental gravity of the issue as a function of something innate to the issue takes it a step outside the individual audience members. But couldn’t a similar pattern of drop off be explained not by the innate partisan views of individual protesters, but by the presence and then absence of a few highly partisan individuals who leverage sufficiently “hot” issues to whip up people into response. Moderately interested individuals, either moderate partisans or moderate ideologues, may respond to calls to protest when organized for them, but may fall apart when no one is reaching out to provide additional motivation and organization for them.

    If organization mediates the relationship, then the predicted outcome for the tea party should also depend on how partisan organizers are.



    April 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

  6. “…Romney criticized these very policies. It’s pretty obvious that he’s showing a preference for the people associated with the policies, not the policy itself.”

    Are you sure it’s so “obvious?” I have no idea what Romney actually thinks but it is at least concievable that he had many other concerns beyond merely paritisan ones. Perhaps he was worried about the scalibility of the policies, or was dubious about pushing them because of their unpopularity (as a democracy this can be a legitimate concern), etc. Again I have no idea, but that’s the point, Romney’s motivations are hardly “obvious.”


    Justin Kraus

    April 29, 2010 at 4:15 am

  7. Are you taking into consideration the fact that Tea Party members (who are more educated than the average population, it turns out), have consistently expressed disgust with both the Denocrats and the Republicans? They are fans of neither side. Which might certainly affect participation by them in protests. If the GOP is so stupid as to nominate another Bush or McCain, I wouldn’t expect Tea Party participation to let up in the least.


    Troy Camplin

    April 29, 2010 at 5:40 am

  8. […] a comment » We’ve discussed the Tea Party on this blog a few times (here, here, here, here, here). Consider this post an open thread on the Tea Party. Here are my […]


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