But the movement that rose up in the wake the election of the nation’s first African-American president has been accused by some critics of attracting racists and using coded language to appeal to racial hostility against the president. The criticism was sometimes based on offensive signs that popped up at Tea Party rallies. But leaders within the movement consistently rejected the claims of racism. A new study is shedding some light on what researchers describe as a “nuanced” relationship between Tea Party supporters and racial animus.
The study published in Race and Social Problems indicates that Tea Party members are not necessarily any more racist than typical white Americans, but that the movement’s supporters are more likely to be, leading the researchers to conclude that, ”what the Tea Party means to its members and what it represents to the large public may, in fact, not be the same thing.”
The study of survey data compiled in 2010 found that people who viewed the Tea Party favorably more often agreed with negative sentiments about African-Americans, than did the general population. Tea Party supporters were more likely to agree with statements like: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites,” and less likely to agree with ones like: “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
While self-identified Tea Party members did not share those beliefs at higher rates than white non-members, they were significantly more likely to believe President Obama is a Muslim and to favor harsher immigration controls. The research also found members were more likely to agree that “whiteness, the ability to speak English well, and native-born status” were very important in “what it means to be fully American.”
“Overall, it appears that different racial motivations are driving self-defined membership and overall favorability ratings of the Tea Party. These differences may account for the general impression of the umbrella movement as part of the racial backlash to Obama’s victory,” the researchers concluded. “However, the differences between predicting support for the Tea Party and predicting membership in the Tea Party show that racial animus is nuanced.”