As the right-wing media machine pursues the “Southern Strategy” of stoking fear among their white conservative audience about black and brown people destroying America, pundits have argued whether the Tea Party movement — closely aligned with Fox News, conservative talk radio, and right-wing websites — is “racist.” Although instances of racist sentiment at Tea Party rallies can be easily found, defenders of the movement argue they are aberrations, if not part of a liberal conspiracy to smear tea partiers.
As TP’s Matt Yglesias wrote in this weekend’s Washington Post, right-wing xenophobes are fueling a “summer of fear” that has its roots in the economic downturn. The strategy of linking racial resentment to fears of economic redistribution and government control under a black presidency — in right-wing storylines including Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod, New Black Panther Party, ACORN, the “Ground Zero Mosque“, and “anchor babies” — is finding a ready audience among the people who identify themselves as tea party supporters.
National surveys of the Tea Party have found that explicit racist sentiment is a strong component of the tea-party make up, in addition to economic conservatism and strong Republican partisanship. The April, 2010 New York Times/CBS News national survey of Tea Party supporters found that they are:
— More than twice as likely as the general public (25% vs 11%) to believe that “the policies of the Obama administration favor blacks over whites.”
— Half as likely as the general public (16% to 31%) to believe that “white people have a better chance of getting ahead in today’s society.”
— Almost twice as likely as the general public (52% to 28%) to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people” in recent years.
Drudge Report, July 19, 2010
In a broad study of adults in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and California conducted between February and March, the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality (WISER) asked a number of questions about “racial resentment” — such as whether blacks don’t try hard enough or have gotten more than they deserve. Conservatives are 23 percent more likely to be racially resentful, and Republicans 15 percent more likely than Democrats. However, the institute found that this racial sentiment isn’t simply a byproduct of white conservativism:
[E]ven as we account for conservatism and partisanship, support for the Tea Party remains a valid predictor of racial resentment.
It is untrue, as political commentator Dave Weigel argues, that racism in the Tea Party is merely reflective of its conservatism. The WISER study found that compared to other conservatives, Tea Party supporters are:
— 25 percent more likely to have racial resentment.
— 27 percent more likely to support racial profiling.
— 28 percent more likely to support indefinite detention without charges.
Tea Party supporters are also significantly more likely to hold racial stereotypes, with a majority believing blacks are not hard-working, intelligent, or trustworthy. Their fear of others transcends race, however — the WISER study found that a majority of tea party adherents distrust Latinos, Asians, and other whites as well.
Of course, this means there are still millions of Tea Party supporters whose views on race and equality are indistinguishable from most Americans. However, it is a unfortunate fact that deep-rooted racial resentment is a key distinguishing feature of Tea Party activism, above and beyond non-racist tenets of American conservatism or partisanship.