The “Racist Tea Parties” debate

My column, Tea parties racist?  Not so fast, has drawn not one but two responses on  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 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’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. 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

(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.


Filed under conservatism, race, U.S. politics

12 responses to “The “Racist Tea Parties” debate

  1. jerry

    Nicely done.

  2. handworn

    Yes, well done. What mystifies me is why these Tea Party critics imagine that successfully showing the Tea Partiers (a group to which I do not belong) as typical this or typical that of the Right– so predictable that they’re richer, whiter, more Republican, yada, yada, yada– does their cause any good at all. “We’ve proved that there are more Peters than Pauls among them, so this shows why they decline to have their money taken to pay Paul.” Gosh, what an accomplishment.

    Do you suppose it’s mainly for internal purposes– that it would bolster the Left’s own confidence if they had “evidence” that stereotypes about Tea Partiers were more true than they’d secretly feared?

  3. handworn

    I might also point out that they don’t seem to be differentiating between income and earned income, a distinction which could help account for the difference in percentages. That is, those earning under $250,000 might still have a gross income of over that figure due to investments, royalties and the like.

  4. Joshua Zambrano

    This is a really good poll. However, I looked at page 41 and think I found where the discrepancy is occurring. If the question about $250,000 is only surveying those who answered that their family income was over $100,000, then it would actually be 11% of the 14% general public who answered the earlier question to having salaries over $100,000, and 12% of the 20% Tea Party supporters who answered the earlier question about having salaries over $100,000. In which case, it would actually be 1.54% of the general public (11% * 14%) and 2.4% of Tea Party supporters (12% * 20%) who have salaries above $250,000. Anyway, really enjoy the work you and Real Clear Politics are doing, keep up the good work!

  5. Ah, that’s more like it — thanks for the clarification! I should have checked the data cited by Ms. Walsh more carefully.

  6. Joshua Zambrano

    Additionally, there is cause for concern that the liberal media and activists have as their agenda the misrepresentation of what the Tea Party actually stands for. Some examples:

    -Jason Levin’s national ‘Crash the Tea Party’ movement to discredit the Tea Party by infiltrating its ranks with those who would make it look bad with racist/stupid signs and comments.

    -Pressuring of black Tea Party supporters in an apparent attempt to make them leave, to perpetuate the liberal belief that Tea Party supporters are racist.

    As mentioned in this AP article, “Unversed in media management, two local leaders suggested in a nationally broadcast interview that they favored abolishing Social Security. Democrats quickly assigned that view to the entire movement.”–t9t1rmxAD9ET21C80

    -Susan Roesgen’s interview of a fake Tea Party supporter to make the movement appear worse than it was. Video taken immediately after the CNN interview revealed the ruse, as the Tea Party supporters called Roesgen out on it, as the impostor promptly left.

    -Most recently, liberal movements have been trying to brand the Tea Party as funded by big business with the supposedly unbiased reporting done by Media Matters and

  7. Joshua Zambrano

    Sure – it wasn’t easy to catch since the poll didn’t mention this is what was being done, and had to be caught by knowing the true statistics already.

  8. I am not sure who those questions were directed to because I am involved in the Tea Party Movement and no one has ever polled me regarding ANYTHING about racial issues.
    I am a minority (an enrolled, full-blooded Native American) and over thirty members of my family (also enrolled members of the Eastern Cherokee Band) are Tea Party Supporters, so if this group was trying to make some kind of racial statement, we would not be involved. As Natives in the U.S.A, we are educated and experienced in onslaught of racism.
    It is quite simple what we stand for and it has nothing to do with racism. For me, as I cannot speak for anyone else, it is about conservatives, tax payers, having a voice about how our money is spent.
    I have a professional degree and I am also a small business owner, but I do not make anywhere near $250,000, however I do pay taxes.
    I think this is a twisted era; it is unethical when political values can not be opposed without someone making accusations of racism as a shield to hide behind.

    Off the subject, I have enjoyed reading your blog and plan to spend some time looking over your past posts. I look forward to your future entries.

  9. Michael

    Maybe this isn’t in the spirit of the discussion, but I just have to say, who cares how racist tea party supporters are? What does that have to do with anything. All kinds of people have all kinds of prejudices; that’s a fact of life. When did the Orwellian Thought Police outlaw bad ideas. We can debate when racism does harm in practice, but in thought it’s no one’s business but the thinker. All this is just ad hominem argument on a grand scale. If it could be proven that every single member of the tea party movement was an incorrigible, unreconstructed racist, that fact would have absolutely zero relevance to their arguments about, say, government spending. In the absence of clear racist inspired actions to harm the discriminated against group, I don’t get why anyone wastes their time with this matter.

  10. Chris Vosburg

    Ah, that’s more like it — thanks for the clarification! I should have checked the data cited by Ms. Walsh more carefully.

    Why? Joan misread the CBS poll just as badly as you did, so why on Earth would you refer to data cited by her? Why not simply read the poll data correctly?

    Because you’re a coward. Permit me to explain:

    The poll data says that 20% of Teapartiers earn over 100K a year compared to 14% of non-

    Of that 20%, 12% of Teapartiers earn over 250k a year, compared to 11% of the 14% of non-Teapartiers.

    So: that’s 12% of 20% vs 11% of 14%, or 2.4 vs. 1.54.

    That’s a a significant difference, and you lack the courage to simply acknowledge that you were wrong in your contention that there is little difference between the two groups.

    Shame on ya.

  11. Are you congenitally unable to conduct discussions without personal insults? or is that an acquired habit?

    If you think 2.54 vs. 1.54 is a huge difference, you’re welcome to that opinion. How about if we reverse the numbers? 97.5% of Tea Partiers (and 98.5 of non-Tea Partiers) are NOT wealthy.

    And you’re telling me that I’m a “coward” because I refuse to make a big deal of out this gap?

    Shame on YOU, jerk. Don’t bother replying — I have a no-obnoxious-jerks policy on my blog.

  12. Malcolm Cloud

    Hey, Cathy. Loved your piece on RCP, BUT!… you use a pretty dismissive narrative towards Herman Cain’s chances for nomination/election that I find to be wrong. Your suggestion seems to be that since Cain has NO chance of being elected, voters who may harbor racist views can pretend to support him, comforted by the certainty that he’ll not be POTUS!!!! Am I reading you wrong??? I think Cain may be exactly what America needs to raise itself out of this economic funk we’re in! I didn’t think so a month ago, and may not think so in another month, but the man is hitting his stride, and I think voters will like his message going forward. I question your take on Cain’s candidacy and wonder why you think he has “no chance”?

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