Study: Tea Party Is Libertarian -- And Authoritarian?

The liberal blog Talking Points Memo is highlighting an academic study of the Tea Party that somehow finds that the Tea Party is both authoritarian and libertarian (in addition to being nativist and afraid of change). How does that make sense?

Apparently, this means that Tea Party activists want a return to constitutional principles and also believe that children should listen to their parents:

What are the four primary characteristics most associated with those Americans sympathetic to the Tea Party? "Authoritarianism, ontological insecurity (fear of change), libertarianism and nativism." So says one of the many findings in a study presented to the American Sociological Association on Monday...

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 authors of the study question the Tea Party activists' actual affinity for the Constitution. TPM stands for Tea Party Members in this graf, not Talking Points Memo:

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.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis