My RealClearPolitics.com column, Tea parties racist? Not so fast, has drawn not one but two responses on Salon.com. The first is from Prof. Christopher Parker, a political scientist at the University of Washington and the lead investigator on the study of the racial attitudes of Tea Party supporters on which my column was largely based. The second is from Salon.com editor Joan Walsh, whose article based on Parker’s findings, “The Tea Partiers’ racial paranoia,” I mentioned and criticized in the column.
When Prof. Parker’s study was first released, it was widely discussed as evidence that the Tea Party movement was driven in large part by racism. The proof was in the numbers: as Salon.com’s David Jarman summed it up, in a “Who are the tea partiers” article that for some reason can no longer be found at its original URL,
Among whites who approve of the Tea Party, only 35 percent said they believe blacks are hard-working, only 45 percent believe blacks are intelligent, and just 41 percent believe that they’re trustworthy.
Salon.com editor Joan Walsh, whose article also seems to have disappeared but is cached here, sarcastically inquired,
And Tea Party supporters don’t like it when anyone notices the racists in their midst?
As I found when I obtained a fuller set of numbers from Prof. Parker (by now, all the data are on the UW website), the actual picture was far more complex. Prof. Parker acknowledges this in his response:
Young is correct that our study found that whites overall, not just Tea Party supporters, harbored some negative stereotypes about blacks. Indeed, although more white Tea Party skeptics considered black people trustworthy than did white Tea Party supporters (57 percent to 41 percent, respectively), those white Tea Party skeptics also found whites more trustworthy than blacks (72 percent of them saw whites as trustworthy). The white Tea Partiers were only a little more likely to think blacks are less intelligent than whites than white Tea Party skeptics.
(Note, by the way, that respondents in the study are not directly asked whether they regard whites as more intelligent or trustworthy than blacks, but to rate how intelligent they think “almost all” members of various racial groups are on a 1-to-7 scale.)
Nonetheless, Prof. Parker takes issue with my analysis of his study:
Young admits there were much bigger gaps on questions about whether blacks are sufficiently hardworking, rely too much on government help and on other indicators of “racial resentment.” … But there Young merely saw conservatism: the belief that those who work hard will be rewarded, and small government is best.
He is echoed by Walsh:
To her credit, Young does acknowledge that on the indicators of what the University of Washington researchers call “racial resentment,” white Tea Partiers differ notably, not only from white Tea Party skeptics, but from all whites in the study. Young puts forward an interesting defense: That’s conservatism, not racism. I’m not sure why Young seems to want to tar all conservatives, not merely the Tea Partiers, with racially blinkered views.
But that isn’t quite what I said. First of all, in response to Prof. Parkr: the perception of blacks as less hardworking than whites belongs to the “racial stereotyping” rather than “racial resentment” category in the poll. While white Tea Party supporters are indeed more likely than white Tea Party opponents to harbor this stereotype, they are only slightly more likely to espouse it than all whites. (The gap between the number of those who give positive ratings to blacks vs. whites on the “hardworking” item is 14 percentage points for strong Tea Party supporters, 12 percentage points for all whites, and 1 point for strong Tea Party opponents.)
As for the “racial resentment” index: my point was not to acknowledge that Tea Party supporters are more likely than other whites to harbor “racial resentment”; it was to question the study’s blinkered definition of “racial resentment.” For instance, the “racial resentment” index includes the statement that “Irish, Italians, Jewish (sic), and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors.” Well, guess what: I agree with that too (despite not being a Tea Party supporter), and if somebody thinks that that makes me a racist, I frankly think it says far more about them that it does about me. As I pointed out in my column, the view that the key to overcoming poverty in the black community is in the efforts of blacks themselves — not only hard work but overcoming self-defeating cultural patterns — is shared by many black conservatives (ones whom white liberals often feel entitled to ridicule in appallingly condescending terms, such as Maureen Dowd’s 2003 column dismissing Clarence Thomas’s opposition to affirmative action as the ravings of a man driven “barking mad” by racial insecurity).
Rather oddly, Prof. Parker accuses me of making an ad hominem argument by stating that he and his colleagues have “standard left-of-center view(s).” In fact, what I said was that to equate opposition to race-based preferences with “racial resentment” is a standard left-of-center view; I fully stand by that statement, which is certainly far less ad hominem than to insinuate that opponents of preferences are driven by resentment.
Prof. Parker also writes:
Young links another finding in our study — that the Tea Partiers support government restrictions on civil liberties — to mere conservatism. But, again, supporters of the Tea Party movement are more likely than other conservatives to support such measures — even though the movement’s supposed goal is freedom from government tyranny. Indeed, controlling for conservatism, Tea Party supporters are 28 percent more likely to say that it’s OK for the government to detain suspects indefinitely without filing charges.
But in fact, this is something I acknowledged in my column:
Not surprisingly, the Tea Partiers are disproportionately Republican and right-wing: 39% consider themselves “very conservative” and 34% “somewhat conservative” (compared to 12% and 24%, respectively, of the general population). Their conservatism, moreover, tends to be more authoritarian than libertarian: In the UW poll, pro-Tea Party respondents are much more likely than others to agree that the government should be able to detain suspects indefinitely without trial and to tap phones if there is a threat of terrorism.
Finally, both Walsh and Parker think they have caught me in a substantial error here:
The other charge against Tea Partiers is that they are not “the people” but the privileged defending their privilege. Walsh gleefully points out that in the Times/CBS poll, 12% of Tea Party sympathizers had an annual income over $250,000 — forgetting to mention that so did 11% of all Americans.
Prof. Parker notes that “In fact, less than 2 percent of Americans make more than a quarter of a million dollars a year,” while Walsh uses my alleged error to insinuate (jokingly or not, I’m not sure) that I myself travel among the privileged:
I wish I hung with Cathy Young; her friends must be doing very, very well: In fact, less than 2 percent of Americans earn more than $250,000 a year, according to Factcheck.org.
(In the comments on Walsh’s article, someone charmingly suggested that 11% of those I consider “real people” make over $250,000 a year.)
In fact, I was not talking about the census figures, but about the ones in the New York Times/CBS poll, which I would think was clear from the wording. And yes, it’s right there in the poll (scroll down to the bottom of Page 41). Which perhaps says something about poll’s validity, but nothing at all about the people I hang out with.