Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What exactly is the demographic makeup of the so-called Tea Party?

This quote from Meghan McCain (via LGF) made me wonder:
McCain: Congressman Tancredo went on TV and he was the first opening speaker and he said, ‘People who could not even spell the word vote or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House whose name is Barack Hussein Obama.’ And then he went on to say that people at the convention should have to pass literacy tests in order to be able to vote in this country, which is the same thing that happened in the 50’s to prevent African Americans from voting. It’s innate racism and I think it’s why young people are turned off by this movement. And I’m sorry, but revolutions start with young people, not with 65-year-old people talking about literacy tests and people who can’t say the word ‘vote’ in English.
My emphasis added. All I've had time to do is a cursory scan of the internet, and I am not really finding any solid data on the demographics of the so-called Tea Party Movement. My impression has been that the bulk of its activists and adherents are predominantly white, and predominantly middle-aged to elderly men and women (before you go apeshit here, please note the use of the term "predominantly" as opposed to a term like "exclusively"). Again, that's an impression largely based on scanning coverage from media reports from all over the political spectrum over the past year (give or take a couple months). I also do spend a considerable amount of time around young adults, thanks to my current vocation, in a relatively conservative part of the US. One thing that does seem to resonate with what Ms. McCain says is that the young white conservative adults I tend to encounter do seem to be turned off by racist language and conspiracy theorizing, which the Tea Party seems to bring in abundance. Of course my data base is one that is largely college-educated, and clearly limited to my personal contacts. I'd hate to make too many generalizations from that set of observations alone. My hunch is that Ms. McCain is probably correct here, and typically when I think of reform movements or revolutionary movements, they are largely youth-driven. I remember P.J. O'Rourke used to propose a "babe theory" of social movements, which though thoroughly sexist did make a similar point. His thesis was that to gauge the potential success of any social or political movement, look to see if relatively large numbers of attractive young women attended its rallies and meetings. If the answer is yes, then you have a movement that would probably be formidable. If the answer is no, then, it's a movement that will fizzle. The broader point, regardless, is that where you find young females, you'll also find young males, and they're the ones who are going to provide that social movement with most of the energy and ideas that it will need in order to flourish. Go back to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, for example of a reform movement that was very youth-driven. Or if revolutions are more your flavor, it was largely college-educated youth who were the movers and shakers of the overthrow of the Shah in Iran in the late 1970s. If those movements had been driven by older partisan or elite apparatchiks, does anyone seriously think they would have gone anywhere? Now of course, that's not to say that a movement's leaders or figurehead spokespersons also must be young - I'm merely looking at the rank and file members of a movement.

Which makes me wonder - have any of the legitimate pollsters bothered to gather demographic data of the Tea Party crowd using proper scientific sampling techniques? If not, will they? I'd like to know with some certainty whether my hunch (and Ms. McCain's hunch) is correct.

Sidebar: usually I don't quote or refer to conservative pundits or writers at such length, but since the Tea Party crowd identify themselves predominantly as conservatives, it seemed fitting.

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