Over at Talking Points Memo they’ve got the summary of a very interesting new academic study done recently at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “Cultures of the Tea Party,” as the study is titled, uses polling data, and interviews with Tea party supporters at a gathering held in the state to provide a snapshot of the overall cultural attitudes of the movement.
The findings, represented on Monday at the American Sociological Association, purport that the defining attitudes of the Tea party sympathizers are “Authoritarianism, ontological insecurity (fear of change), libertarianism and nativism.” From TPM:
The study used polling of North Carolina and Tennessee, conducted by Public Policy Polling (D) in the Summer of 2010, and determined the cultural dispositions by measuring the responses of tea partiers to set questions. After PPP surveyed over 2,000 voters who were sympathetic to the Tea Party, researchers then reinterviewed almost 600 in the fall of 2010. Those interviews included everything from personality based queries like “Would you say it is more important that a child obeys his parents, or that he is responsible for his own actions?” to more political ones, like “Do you think immigrants who came into this country illegally but pay taxes and have not been arrested should be given the opportunity to become permanent legal residents?” The study also incudes interviews and short responses with ten participants at a Tea Party rally in Washington, NC.
“American voters sympathetic to the Tea Party movement reflect four primary cultural and political beliefs more than other voters do: authoritarianism, libertarianism, fear of change, and negative attitudes toward immigrants and immigration,” a statement accompanying the report reads, as the findings themselves point out a few disconnects between the what self-described members of the Tea Party say and their actual policy stances.
The report quotes one Tea Party activist as saying, “We don’t want the big government that’s taking over everything we worked so hard for…the government’s becoming too powerful… we want to take back what our Constitution said. You read the Constitution. Those values - that’s what we stand for,” but that sentiment is not reflected in the polling data from the surveys. From the report:
In our follow-up poll, 84% of those positive towards the TPM [Tea Party members] said the Constitution should be interpreted “as the Founders intended,” compared to only 34% of other respondents. Other respondents were also three times more likely not to have an opinion on the issue, highlighting the salience of the question for TPM supporters. Support for Constitutional principles is not absolute. TPM supporters were twice as likely than others to favor a constitutional amendment banning flag burning; many also support efforts to overturn citizenship as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment. That TPM supporters simultaneously want to honor the founders’ Constitution and alter that same document highlights the political flexibility of the cultural symbols they draw on.
The TPM supporters’ inconsistent views of the Constitution suggests that their nostalgic embrace of the document is animated more by a network of cultural associations than a thorough commitment to the original text. In fact, such inconsistencies around policy, whether on the right or left, highlight what many sociologists see as the growing importance of culture in political life. The Constitution - and Tea Party more generally - take on heightened symbolic value and come to represent a ‘way of life’ or a “world view” rather than a specific set of laws or policy positions.
This reminds me a lot of Canadian psychology professor Bob Altemeyer’s long-term study of cultural attitudes of conservatives, The Authoritarians, which is online in pdf format. Altemeyer’s studies reveal rightwing double standards, inconsistent beliefs, willful ignorance, misrepresentation of historical and scientific facts and bizarre justifications. It, too, is absolutely worth reading.
The second reason I can offer for reading what follows is that it is not chock full of opinions, but experimental evidence. Liberals have stereotypes about conservatives, and conservatives have stereotypes about liberals. Moderates have stereotypes about both. Anyone who has watched, or been a liberal arguing with a conservative (or vice versa) knows that personal opinion and rhetoric can be had a penny a pound. But arguing never seems to get anywhere. Whereas if you set up a fair and square experiment in which people can act nobly, fairly, and with integrity, and you find that most of one group does, and most of another group does not, that’s a fact, not an opinion. And if you keep finding the same thing experiment after experiment, and other people do too, then that’s a body of facts that demands attention.3 Some people, we have seen to our dismay, don’t care a hoot what scientific investigation reveals; but most people do. If the data were fairly gathered and we let them do the talking, we should be on a higher plane than the current, “Sez you!”
The comments thread at TPM is worth reading. I suspect that our thread here will be lively also!
Posted by Richard Metzger |
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