Over the past few weeks, two conservative myths about the Tea Party movement have exploded. First, despite the best efforts of Republicans to paint the angry mobs as independents, a bevy of polls confirmed that Tea Party members are ideologically conservative and overwhelmingly vote Republican. Second, a new survey from the University of Washington revealed that despite right-wing claims to the contrary, the lily-white Tea Party is boiling over with racial animus.
Echoing recent polls from Gallup, the Winston Group, CNN and Quinnipiac, the Multi-State Survey of Race and Politics found that the Tea Party is a merely the GOP's strongest brew. Its thousand person survey in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and California revealed:
30 percent of respondents had never heard of the tea party, but among those who had, 32 percent strongly approved of it. In that group, 56 percent of Republicans strongly approved, 31 percent of independents strongly approved and 5 percent of Democrats strongly approved.
(It should be noted that the survey sample doubtless skewed Democratic, involving 494 whites, 380 blacks, 77 Latinos and 64 members of other races.)
But on questions of race, Professor Christopher Parker's polling suggested that initial assumptions about the motivations of some Tea Party members may not be far off the mark. Among white respondents, southerners are 12 percent more likely to support the Tea Party than those in other parts of the country. And tellingly:
Approximately 45 % whites either strongly or somewhat approve of the movement. Of those, only 35% believe blacks to be hardworking, only 45 % believe blacks are intelligent, and only 41% think that blacks are trustworthy. Perceptions of Latinos aren't much different. While 50% of white tea party supporters believe Latinos to be hardworking, only 39% think them intelligent, and at 37%, fewer tea party supporters believe Latinos to be trustworthy.
For her part, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann recently brushed off any suggestion of racial politics infusing the Tea Party movement:
"The media wants you to believe that tea party patriots are toothless hillbillies," she said. "This is a very sophisticated crowd. And then these charges from Democrats that they were spit upon, that there were racial epithets - there's no one who saw anything.
Of course, Bachmann (along with Sarah Palin, John Cornyn, and Jim DeMint) is among the legion of GOP leaders insisting Republicans should "allow themselves to be re-defined by the tea party movement." South Carolina's Demint declared, "We need to stop looking at the Tea Parties as separate from the Republican Party."
But it's not just the leading lights of the Republican universe telling us that Tea Party = GOP. A quick glance at the videotape from 2008 McCain-Palin rallies looks and sounds little different from today's Tea Party gatherings. And as the data show, Republicans broadly share the same Tea Bagger delusions about Barack Obama's birth certificate, his religious faith, government death panels and so much more. Worse still, Republican politicians casual spew the same incitements to violence parroted by the Tea Party faithful.
While Tea Party members might lie, the numbers don't. As many suspected, theirs is the unbearable whiteness of being.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)