Last September, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin answered critics who predicted that the movement would soon peter out: “The Tea Party movement is here to stay.” Seven months later, presidential candidate Herman Cain — a Tea Party favorite — echoed the same sentiment: “I have people asking me all the time. Do you think this Tea-Party ‘thing’ is going to go away? […] No, it’s not going away. It’s gonna get stronger and stronger.”
A ThinkProgress investigation, however, shows a far different picture. Indeed, empirical evidence points to one conclusion: Tea Party activity has declined sharply thus far in 2011.
For this report, ThinkProgress examined the total number of events across the country listed on the Tea Party Patriots (TPP) and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) websites each month. We then compared the number of Tea Parties that occurred in 2010 with the number that took place in the first seven months of 2011.
The results were startling. For TPP, fewer than half the number of Tea Party events took place in the first seven months of 2011 compared to the same time period in 2010. Furthermore, while an average of 337 Tea Parties were held across the country each month of 2010, this year that number has dropped to just 166 events per month and continues to decline.
This study only looked at events organized by Americans for Prosperity or Tea Party Patriots and their affiliates — other Tea Party groups’ event numbers were not readily available. The two groups, however, serve as complimentary proxies for the overall movement. TPP is the largest and most organized of all Tea Party groups, boasting over 1,000 local chapters, while AFP represents the more top-down corporate-directed segment of the Tea Party. Together, the two groups are a good barometer of morale and enthusiasm among the Tea Party rank-and-file.
We found a similarly steep decline among Tea Party events held by Americans for Prosperity as well. The number of events held in the first seven months of 2011 dropped off by more than one-third compared to the same time period in 2010.
Critics of our finding that the number of Tea Party events has significantly decreased in 2011 may argue that it’s apples-and-oranges to compare 2010 and 2011 because the former was an election year. However, this objection is faulty for two reasons. First, if the Tea Party likens itself as a movement rather than an election turnout machine for Republicans, we should expect to see little dropoff from 2010 to 2011. That is clearly not the case.
Second, nearly every Tea Party leader has declared some variation of the theme: “Our work doesn’t end on Election Day, that’s when it begins.” When looking at the actual number of Tea Party events that have taken place since that day, however, it’s clear there has been a significant drop-off in quantity.
Six months ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) predicted that the Tea Party would soon disappear as the economy continues to improve. The jury is out on whether or not it will vanish completely anytime soon, but this ThinkProgress report empirically shows that the Tea Party train is in the midst of a substantial decline.
CAPAF intern Casey Peeks contributed research to this report.