Beneath the Tea Party’s Anti-Government Rallying Cry, Americans Call for Government to Do More
by Project Vote, Thu Oct 07, 2010 at 05:47:35 PM EDT
“Can you hear me?” That’s the recurring refrain in a radio promo for this weekend’s “Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention,” which—with an estimated crowd of 3,000—purports to be one of the largest rallies yet of so-called “Tea Party” sympathizers. The 60-second radio spot by keynote speaker Lou Dobbs features allegedly outraged Americans repeating that line, interspersed with un-attributed stats about how Americans supposedly oppose stimulus spending, health care, and other government spending policies “Maybe Washington can’t hear us,” Dobbs intones dramatically, “because they’re just not listening.”
Not listening to whom? For two years media obsession with the Tea Party has drowned out nearly every other voice in the public debate, a self-perpetuating feeding frenzy that has raised the volume on this population’s views to a disproportionately deafening roar. Yet, as is shown all too clearly in Project Vote’s recent poll report What Happened to Hope and Change? A Poll of 2008 Voters, these shouts for attention are coming from a segment of the population that is overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and older—and one that is out of touch with the needs and views of most Americans.
One thing that Tea Party sympathizers say is confirmed by Project Vote’s poll: they are indeed almost universally angry. Yet, based on their responses to Project Vote’s survey, they seem to have precious little to be angry about. Three fourths of them report that their personal financial situation is fairly good or very good. Eight out of ten are employed or retired; they are overwhelmingly married; they went to college; and they make more money. Contrary to claims that the Tea Party represents a “wide swath of Americans,” nine out of ten Tea Party sympathizers are White.
Older, wealthier, White conservatives: this is hardly a population overlooked or ignored, either by the media or by Washington.
Can you hear me? This question is better asked by the 21 percent of young voters, the 37 percent of Black voters, and the 39 percent of low-income voters who reported to Project Vote that they did not have enough money to buy food for their families at some point during the past year. (Only 6 percent of Tea Partiers said the same.)
It is a question better asked by the strong majorities of black voters, young voters, and low-income voters who support stimulus spending, government programs to create jobs, and who say they agree with the statement that “government should work to provide for the needs of all citizens.”
It is a question better asked by the majorities of all American voters who support raising taxes on capital gains, ending combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and raising the minimum wage to ensure that no family of three with a full-time worker has to live below the poverty line.
Belying the exaggerated claims of Tea Party activists, Project Vote’s poll shows that most Americans—and particularly the black, low-income, and youth voters who increased their participation so decisively in 2008—share a common expectation that government should provide for the needs of all Americans rather than limit its activities to national security and police protection. This value translates into support for increased spending on infrastructure and public education and maintaining or increasing spending on income security programs such as Food Stamps.
In a press release about the Project Vote poll, Color of Change co-founder and executive director James Rucker said, “What Project Vote’s poll shows is that the views on government held by progressives represent the majority. We shouldn’t let Tea Party activists convince us that we, and not they, are the minority.”
Yet as the Tea Party minority turns up the volume on its microphones again this weekend in Richmond, Virginia, media attention will no doubt once again focus on their anti-government message. Meanwhile, the voices of the other 72 percent of American voters are calling for a different vision of government—one that does more, not less, to support and protect struggling Americans.
The question is, can anyone hear them?