We are all part of the Human Rights Movement!

Breaking the Silence

What's Behind the Wave of Police, Security, and
Vigilante Killings of Black People?

Tea Parties & Racism

by Abby Scher and Chip Berlet

Adapted from Abby Scher and Chip Berlet, 2014. “The Tea Party Moment,” in Nella van Dyke and David S. Meyer, eds., Understanding the Tea Party Movement, Farnham and London: Ashgate.


Tea partiers show greater racial grievance than white evangelicals as a whole (a group that includes some liberals). Fifty eight percent of Tea Partiers say minorities get too much government attention while the figure is 38 percent for white evangelicals. Other surveys by Public Religion Research Institute reveal Tea Partier opposition to diversity and immigration. Studies by Parker and the Keils found significant racial antagonism towards Blacks and Latinos.

By using elaborate social science variable analysis, The Center for Social Inclusion (CSI) found a connection between economic issues, race, and voter support for Tea Party messages:

Tea Party successes have been driven by a combination of economic insecurity and race. Our analysis shows that in congressional districts with economic insecurity, Tea Party candidates won 9 of 10 races where the White population is above 60 percent, while losing 7 of 10 races where the population of color is above 40 percent. Yet, in districts with higher economic security, Tea Party candidates failed in all but three races — [running against] incumbents representing White populations above 70 percent.

The New York Times/CBS poll in April 2010 found that “Tea Party supporters over all are more likely than the general public to say their personal financial situation is fairly good or very good” wrote Zernike and Thee–Brenan. And this and other polls have shown that Tea Party supporters on average have higher incomes than most other Americans, although the degree of their higher income and wealth is often exaggerated by critics.

Fear and experiences of economic decline, however, is rampant among Tea Party supporters. The same New York Times/CBS poll found that “55 percent are concerned that someone in their household will be out of a job in the next year. And more than two–thirds say the recession has been difficult or caused hardship and major life changes ”according to Zernike and Thee–Brenan.

The CSI study demonstrated how economic stress and racism among whites is linked. CSI found that “in congressional districts facing economic stress, the Tea Party used economic insecurity and growing racial fears to win in majority–White districts.” Yet in predominantly white “congressional districts not in foreclosure distress” voters tended not “to support Tea Party candidates. Race was correlated with Tea Party victory, but not class.” In those districts that had “large numbers of people of color and high foreclosure rates” there were “few Tea Party candidate victories. According to the CSI report:

The Tea Party’s strategy of dividing voters along subtle, and not so subtle, references to race and ethnicity works in White economically distressed communities, but not necessarily White economically healthy communities or communities with sizable populations of color.

More information about the book is here


Center for Social Inclusion. 2010. Race Reaction: Voter Responses to Tea Party Messages in Economically Stressed Communities Available online here.

Kazin, M. 1995. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. New York, Basic Books.

Kazin, M. 1992. The Grass–Roots Right: New Histories of U.S. Conservatism in the Twentieth Century, American Historical Review, (97) February, 136–55.

Keil, T. and Keil, J.M. 2012. The characteristics of the congressional district and tea party victories in 2010, Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World: A Review Journal, (3)1 Spring, 43-46.

Parker, C. 2010. 2010 Multi-state Survey on Race & Politics. University of Washington, Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality. Seattle, University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality. Available at: http://depts.washington.edu/uwiser/racepolitics.html.

Zernike, K. 2010. Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt.

Zernike, K. and Thee–Brenan, M. 2010. Poll finds tea party backers wealthier and more educated. The New York Times [Online: 14 April]. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/us/politics/15poll.html [accessed: 12 December 2012].





These resources compiled at the request of the Spirit House Project for a
National Teach-In, Worship Service, and Candlelight Vigil
held On April 22, 2014, in Washington, DC
(a copy of the event poster is here)

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