Why the Tea Party matters so much

At lunch today I was having a conversation with a friend about potential 2016 nominees, and naturally, we discussed Rubio.  I got back from lunch to read Kevin Drum’s post that argues that Rubio is now hopeless for 2016 because he’s angered the Tea Party:

The specific question that Josh and Ed are tossing around, though, is this: how can we say that Rubio is doomed just because he’s pissed off the base over immigration reform? After all, the last two Republican nominees had big base problems too.

I think the answer here is fairly simple, and it’s something that gets lost a lot: the tea party makes up only about half—or maybe slightly less than half—of the Republican base. In the past two GOP primaries, what’s basically happened is that there was a huge clown show between a bunch of candidates all sprinting rightward in order to win the tea party vote, and only one or two candidates seriously going after the more moderate vote.

I wasn’t sure where the “half the Republican base” figure comes from so I decided to see that the NES data had to say about the matter.  If we define the base as “primary voters” well, then, half it is:


Clearly a disproportionate influence, as you can see that whereas half the Republican primary voters support the Tea Party, overall, only about a third of Republicans do.

But it’s not just the primary voting– the Tea Party supports are truly where the energy of the Republican party.  The NES had two separate scales of political activity for 2012.  The first, labeled “activity” looks at trying to persuade others about voting, attending a political event, giving money, etc., (0 to 6 scale).,  The second, dhsactivity, is a somewhat broader measure of civic engagement that also includes things such as signing petitions (on-line or off) and writing letters, etc., (0 to 10 scale)   So, what you can see in the table below, is that even among Republican primary voters, the Tea Party supporters are a substantially more active set.  The Tea Party supporters engaged in about an additional half activity on average.  That’s nothing to sneeze out.  So, not only are the disproportionately likely to vote in primaries, they are disproportionately politically active, even among that already more active set of voters.


And finally, there are lots of demographic correlates of being in the Tea Party, so just to settle matters, I ran a regression (Republicans only) with plenty of demographic controls.  Short version, Tea Party support remains a clear factor in being more politically active.


In sum: the Tea Party is definitely driving the Republican Party (off a cliff?) because not only do they disproportionately participate in primaries but they are disproportionately politically active in all the ways to which politicians pay attention.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Why the Tea Party matters so much

  1. Pingback: Should Republicans Still Fear the Tea Party? -

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