Tag Archives: Palin

Surprise! Palin wins Florida, Michigan Straw Polls!

“It wasn’t fully clear at the time, but the political ground was shifting under Rick Perry’s feet from virtually the moment he arrived here in Orlando for the Republican presidential debate and Florida GOP straw poll.”  That was conservative columnist Byron York’s dramatic pronouncement   in the aftermath of Saturday’s straw poll in Florida, .which saw Perry soundly drubbed by pizza magnate Herman Cain.  The final results were Cain 37.1 percent; Perry 15.4 percent; Romney 14.0 percent; Rick Santorum 10.9 percent; Ron Paul 10.4 percent; Newt Gingrich 8.4 percent; Jon Huntsman 2.3 percent; and Michele Bachmann 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, in the less highly publicized Michigan straw poll also held yesterday, Mitt Romney trounced Perry and every other Republican, winning 51% of the vote to Perry’s 17%.   Coming off Perry’s “disappointing” performance in Thursday’s fourth Republican debate, in which he stood by “controversial” positions on immigration and on vaccinating against the HPV virus, pundits like York are openly questioning whether Perry is on the verge of a complete campaign meltdown. On Fox News today, Britt Hume opined that Perry was “One-half step away from almost total collapse.”  Fellow panelist A.B. Stoddard agreed, noting that the Florida results represented a “real slap to Perry and Mitt Romney.”

Really?  A half step from total collapse?  It was less than a week ago that these same pundits were telling us this was a two-person race between Perry and Romney, and that Cain was among the group of Republican second-tier candidates who had no chance of winning the nomination. Now, on the basis of one debate and second place finishes in two straw polls, Perry’s candidacy is apparently ready to implode, while Cain has new life.

What we are seeing here is the inevitable media overreaction to an event of dubious political significance. Yes, at first glance, Cain’s margin of victory seems impressive – until you realize that less than 3,000 people participated in the Florida straw poll and he received votes from maybe 1,000 of them.  Evidently his “stemwinder” speech won over the crowd of Disneyworld-based Republican activists.  (It’s a small, small world, after all.)  Who are they, and do they represent Florida Republicans more generally?  That’s a question the media doesn’t bother to answer.

Instead they trumpet the results as an indication of widespread dissatisfaction with Perry, and with the Republican field in general. Forgive me if I don’t buy the spin to anoint Cain the next Michele Bachmann.  (Remember her? The flavor du jour after the Iowa Ames poll, she won less than 2% in yesterday’s Florida event.)   Keep in mind that the media spent several months searching for a credible alternative to Romney, in order to create the perception of a real horse race, while simultaneously working to weed out second-tier candidates in order to simplify the story line.  First they tried to pump up Bachmann, but she proved just a bit too extreme to be credible, so they were very grateful when Perry stepped in – until he threatened to run away with the race, thus eliminating any sense of suspense.  Fortunately for the pundits, Perry “stumbled” on Thursday, and with Cain’s victory, we can expect to see all the news stories from August regarding the dissatisfaction with the Republican field recycled.

And what about Romney? Keep in mind that he didn’t bother participating in Florida, preferring to focus instead on the all-important “National Journal Hotline/National Association of Home Builders” straw poll in Michigan. His efforts paid off, as he trounced Perry, who flew in at the last moment only to finish second. Mitt’s performance, capturing more than half the vote, seems even more impressive than Cain’s – until you realize that only 661 GOP activists bothered to attend the weekend conference in Michigan. So Mitt picked up 332 nonbinding votes in Michigan.  Stop the presses!

If these events are significant, it’s not because they are an accurate barometer of candidates’ broader support among likely Republican voters – it’s because the media says they are important, and as such they can influence perceptions of viability. Those perceptions matter, in large part because they can influence the decisions by party elites and potential donors regarding who to back.

The next big Republican debate comes in October.  In the meantime, expect to see some jockeying among the candidates as they react to the media narrative regarding what happened yesterday.   Romney will trumpet his Michigan victory, Cain will try to feed off Florida to attract support, and Perry will have to think about how to deal with the growing perception that he’s not conservative or smooth enough.

Make no mistake, however. The longer the punditocracy continues to play up the “weak Republican field” angle, the better it is for yesterday’s big winner:  Sarah Palin.  That’s right – I can spin with the best of them.  But think about it: by not declaring her candidacy, she avoids wearing the front-runner bulls-eye that Romney and Perry have both been saddled with, and she continues to fuel media speculation regarding her real intentions.  Although she’s nearing some October deadlines for getting her name on the ballot in many states, don’t be surprised if a “volunteer” group springs up to do that on her behalf, without her having to officially enter the race even then.  It would allow her to remain the candidate-in-waiting, as the media takes turns assailing the purported front-runners.  Ideally, she jumps in at the very last moment, in time to win the first real contest, but without giving the media time to target her as the front-runner.

An unorthodox strategy?  Sure,  but so was Jimmy Carter’s decision to campaign all out in the early caucus and primary states in 1976, while his big-name rivals concentrated on the bigger states.  As campaign rules and technology changes, so do candidates’ optimal nomination strategies.  The smart candidates are those who are ahead of the curve in assessing those changes and adjusting accordingly.  Evidently Palin is gambling that, in the era of social media, candidates no longer need to play by the traditional media’s rules.  Time will tell if she is right – assuming, of course, that she’s running.

Bachmann and Palin: Gender or Generational Gap?

Two news stories today prompted me to pick up the thread of the discussion I started in a previous blog post regarding Chris Wallace asking Michele Bachmann whether she was “a flake.” The latest Newsweek magazine has Sarah Palin on the cover, and the interview inside will undoubtedly stoke the “is she or isn’t she?” flames even more.  Meanwhile, the latest Iowa poll now shows Bachmann ahead of Romney (although the lead is within the poll’s margin of error) and with much higher favorability/unfavorability ratings, capping her polling surge that began after the recent New Hampshire debate. With both women now in the top tier of Republican candidates, it is an opportunity to return to an issue I raised in my post regarding the Bachmann-Wallace contretemps – do women presidential candidates face a higher hurdle because of their gender? Note that I wasn’t the only one to wonder whether Wallace would have asked a man that same question.  Shortly after my post, Wallace videotaped an “apology” in which he admitted that “I messed up”, even as he repeated the assertion that some people thinks Bachmann’s a flake.  Several of you emailed me (all males who refused to post publicly!) to take issue with my question, arguing that Bachmann’s treatment reflected the fact she is, in fact, a flake.  But not all of you hid behind the guise of anonymity: Anna Esten went on the record with some thoughtful comments that took issue with my post. Her comments remind me that the Bachmann/Palin candidacies may turn more on the generational divide in politics as on any gender gap.

Esten’s point is simple: we should stop thinking of Bachmann and Palin as female candidates, and instead treat them as candidates who happen to be female. As she writes: “The American people are still unable to see past gender stereotypes of protecting women. When men are asked tough questions, they should be able to stand up for themselves and fight back. When women are asked tough questions, it’s seen as mean. Simply, many believe that women shouldn’t have to experience the harsh environment of running for president, a belief that leaves those people thinking that women are inherently unqualified to hold such an office.

Women aren’t held to a different standard than men. We just haven’t yet seen a woman (in my opinion) strong-willed enough to take politics like a man, or find another way to prove their merit as a presidential candidate.”

Esten is part of the college-age cohort that came out so strongly for Obama in 2008 and who were least likely to support Hillary Clinton during the Democratic nominating contest.  In the heat of the Clinton-Obama fight, I often asked my female students whether they felt any inclination to support Clinton because of the barriers women faced in electoral politics at the presidential level.  For the most part, they looked at me like I had two heads. Gender just didn’t factor into their calculus. And yet, nationally, as the following Gallup poll shows, Clinton did attract stronger support among women Democrat voters than from men, who went more strongly for Obama.

However, there was a definite generational skew to Clinton’s support among white women; the younger the voter, the less likely she was to support Clinton.




To be sure more than gender is at play here – income and education are also factors affecting Clinton’s relative support.   Nonetheless, there’s a definite generational difference at play – there is a 22% polling difference in Clinton’s support between the oldest and youngest age cohort.  Clearly, women who came of age when the barriers to their participation in politics were still very much in place were much stronger supporters of Clinton than were the younger women voters who benefited from the  breaking of those barriers.

Of course, one last glass ceiling remains: in contrast to many democracies, we have yet to elect a woman president.  Whether Bachmann or Palin can break through will depend in part on the relative influence of generational versus gender factors.





Is Sarah Running? I “Interview” Her In The Palindrome

Sarah Palin’s “One Nation” bus tour which began last Sunday has once again touched off debate regarding her political intentions.  Is she going to run for President in 2012?  So far Palin is not saying – indeed, she has avoided talking to the national press, going so far as to keep her bus tour destinations secret until the last moment.  Nonetheless, when her bus swung through Boston this week, I was able to use my local connections to swing an interview with her.  Because she was pressed for time she kept her answers short, but she was amazingly candid. I think you will find her answers revealing. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat:

Me:  I appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me. By what name should I call you – Sarah? Ms. Palin?

Palin: Ma is a madam, as I am.

Me: Ok, Madam Palin. Let me start with the question that is on everyone’s mind – are you running for president in 2012?

P:  Do geese see God?

Me:  Uh..well..I guess I never thought about it.  But let me be more specific. Are you planning on attending the first straw vote that will be held in Iowa on August 13?

P: Straw? No, too stupid a fad; I put soot on warts.

Me:  Hmmm. I’ll take that as a no. In thinking about your electoral chances more generally, a number of candidates think they can beat you.

P: Name one man.

Me. Well, Mitt Romney, for example. What do you think about Romney’s chances?

P. Party boobytrap.

Me. Tim Pawlenty?

P:  Pusillanimity obsesses Boy Tim. In all is up.

Me: Uh, I guess that’s not good. New Gingrich?

P. Flee to me, remote elf.

Me. Ooh – harsh! Ron Paul?

P:  Dr. Awkward.

Me: Rudy Guliani?

P: Avid diva.

Me: Herman Cain?

P: Cain. A maniac.

Me: Michelle Bachmann?

P: Gnu dung.

Me:  Ouch! Not a single good word for your fellow Republicans. I hate to ask, but how do you feel about President Obama?

P: Live evil. Dammit, I’m mad!

Me: What would you say to him right now, if you had the chance?

P. God lives, evil dog.

Me: I’m not sure those are the words of a Christian, but who am I to judge? Let’s discuss your relations with the media. You have made it clear that you believe that on the whole, the mainstream media is against your candidacy, and that their coverage is biased.  But why would the media single you out – what is their real agenda?

P:  Harass Sarah.

Me: What is your view of the media in general?

P: Rats at a bar grab at a star.

Me: Precisely put. Let’s talk issues. Libya – how would you pressure Gaddaffi into stepping down?

P: Bombard a drab mob.

Me:  So you support air strikes even at the risk of civilian casualties?  Ok, I don’t want to go all Katie Couric on you, but can you name the former South African civil rights leader?

P: A lad named E. Mandala.

Me: Close enough. You’ve often said that Ronald Reagan was your favorite president. Why?

P:  A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.

Me. Yes, but in the end he agreed to abide by the Panama Canal treaty negotiated by Carter.  How about President George W. Bush?  Did you think he made a good president?

P. Dubya won?  No way, bud.

Me: Well, to this day some people agree with you. Nonetheless, he served two terms. What did you think of his decision to characterize Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil”?

P: “Evil axis”, sides reversed, is “six alive.”

Me: Uh, yes it is. But did you support his decision to remove Saddam?

P:  Drat Saddam! Mad dastard!

Me: Again, you aren’t really answering the question. But let’s move on. Domestically, you’ve argued that you represent America’s core values. What are those values?  What constitutes the “real” America?

P: Tulsa night life: filth, gin, a slut.

Me: Now you’re pulling my leg!  What would be your immigration policy?

P:  Bar an Arab.

Me: Are Arabs really the problem? And doesn’t that risk a backlash from that group? How would you fix the deficit?

P:  Sex at noon taxes.

Me: Hmmm… a sin tax, but one that raises privacy issues. And why at noon?  Never mind. As president, you will almost certainly have a chance to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice. What is your view toward the court – do you subscribe to a particular judicial philosophy?

P: Some men interpret nine memos.

Me: Well, that’s not very specific and, as you know, they aren’t all men. But moving on. A central focus of my research has been determining how best to organize the White House staff for effective decisionmaking.  For instance, I’ve long argued that presidents are better off avoiding having a strong chief of staff like John Sununu under the first Bush –

P: Bush saw Sununu’ s wash sub.

Me: He did? I’m not sure I want to know what that means.

P: Wonder if Sununu’s fired now?

Me: You mean from his latest job? I have no idea. As a conservative, you argued against what you view as excessive government regulation.  If elected, what is the first law or regulation you would rescind?

P:  Walmart’s tram law.

Me:  I didn’t even know they had one.  Let’s talk about your foreign policy experience.  Have you traveled abroad?  If so, what can you tell us about it?

P: Warsaw was raw.

Me: I can imagine.  Places you liked?

P. Amore Roma.

Me.  Who doesn’t? You consider yourself a Christian. As president, would you make it a habit to go to church regularly?

P. We panic in a pew.

Me: Really? I never would have guessed that. Any other phobias?

P: Aibohphobia.

Me:  Yikes! Fear of palindromes – how ironic!  I hope you don’t read the transcript of this interview!  Let’s move on to a delicate topic. Are you really Trig’s mother?

P: Did Mom pop?  Mom did.

Me: Short and to the point. I appreciate that. What’s it like traveling with a baby on this bus tour?  And how do you cope?

P: Tons ‘o snot. May a moody baby doom a yam?

Me: Can’t say that I know, but that’s an interesting choice of baby food. Must be an Alaskan thing. Moving on, I see a list of cities in red on the bus schedule pinned to the wall – Washington, Mt.Vernon, Baltimore, Boston, Detrolt – Detrolt?  Presumably that’s Detroit?

P: Todd erases a red dot.

Me: Ah, I see, he changed the “i” to an “l”. Todd’s a prankster, is he?  Describe your relationship with him – for example, do you have a special term of endearment?

P: Yo banana boy!

Me: Banana boy?  What explains – well, never mind. Speaking of Detroit, presumably you are going to address the President’s bailout of GM – did you support the bailout?

P: No, it is opposition.

Me: But you do drive an American car?

P: A Toyota! Race fast… safe car: a Toyota

Me: That won’t win any voters in the Motor City I’ll wager. It might help the undecided voters if they could learn more about your personal side.  For example, how do you keep in shape while on a bus tour?  Do you have a special diet?

P: Go hang a salami; I’m a lasagna hog!

Me: You have got to be kidding! That sounds fattening, and yet you seem to keep your weight under control. Any foods you avoid?

P: No lemons, no melon.  Tuna roll or a nut?

Me. No thank you. I just ate. In fact, I’m fasting now as a way to lose weight.

P: Doc, note I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.

Me: Well, I’m not a doctor. But your diet clearly works for you. I may try it. Any vices?  Did you ever smoke cigarettes?

P: No trace. Not one carton.

Me: Cigars?

P: Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic.

Me: Admirable.  How about alcohol?

P. Rum, rum I murmur.

Me: I’m with you on that one. Maybe after the interview?

P: Red rum, sir, is murder.

Me:  Ok, we’ll stay away from red rum. How do you pass the time between stops on the tour?

P: We sew.

Me: And do you work out?  if so, where?

P: My gym.

Me: Do you play sports – golf, maybe?

P:  Golf?  No sir, prefer prison-flog.

Me: How do you keep so tanned?  Do you use a specific tanning salon?

P:   No, I tan at a nation.

Me:  I see, so you’ll tan anywhere. Ok, who was the most important influence on your life?

P.  Ma is as selfless as I am.

Me: I think that’s true of most mothers. You’ve made no secret that you are a hunter.  But some animal rights activists have criticized you for this.  How do you respond to their concerns?

P: Meet animals; laminate ‘em.

Me:  Fair enough.  For the outdoorsmen and women out there, what’s your most memorable hunting experience?

P. Ten animals I slam in a net.

P: Very impressive!  Any favorite musicians?  You grew up in the Material Girl era – are you a Madonna fan?

P: (Yawn) – Madonna fan?  No damn way!  Air an aria.

Me: I’m not an opera fan myself. Do you play any musical instruments?

P: A but tuba.

Me:  I’m not going to ask. Do you have any favorite childhood memories?  How did you spend your summers?

P: Camp Mac. Campus motto: Bottoms up Mac.

Me: Hmmm, I’m not sure I’d send my kid there! Returning to the presidential race – what are the odds that you will formally declare while on this bus trip?

P. Never odd or even.

Me:  Going out on a limb, I see. Why should voters consider voting for you?

P: Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Me.  Inspiring words, for sure. Any last bit of advice for my readers?

P: Rise to vote, sir.

Me: And what will you say if they do?

P: Now I won!

Me. Thank you very much, Madam Palin.  Now let’s get that drink. Remember, you offered to buy the first round.

P. I did, did I?

Me: Yo bro! Free beer for boy!

P: Yo, bottoms up! U.S. Motto, boy.

Palin for President? “Refudiating” Her Critics Once More

I just received James Carville’s latest fundraising letter on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (don’t worry, I get them from the Republicans too – it’s my job.)  Featured prominently on the envelope is a not very flattering picture of Sarah Palin, in full snarl.  She looks like she just saw Katie Couric move in next door. Inside, in bold type, Carville warns me that “Palin’s summer of lies road trip is in full swing”, and that she’s “already campaigned for more than a dozen tea party lunatics running for Congress” and has plans to stump for many more.

The fundraising letter reminds me just how formidable a political figure Palin has become. It was little more than a year ago that critics sounded her political obituary in the wake of her decision to quit her position as Governor of Alaska.  Now, if Carville is to be believed, she has become the de facto face of the Tea Party, and a leading figure in the Republican Party, one whose political endorsement is perceived to carry great weight.  How did she manage to escape the political oblivion to which her critics consigned her?

In retrospect, the decision to quit the governor’s position looks like a stroke of pure genius – whether or not she actually plans to run for President. To begin, it freed her to raise money much more easily than she could have done if she remained in Alaska.  Consider the latest fundraising totals for SarahPAC – her leadership PAC – as reported to the FEC.  It is her best showing to date, and she trails only Romney among potential Republican presidential candidates in fundraising in the 2010 electoral cycle. (Note that at the time this chart was created it did not include Pawlenty’s totals for the 2nd quarter 2012.)

This money is important for three reasons.  First, as the Carville fundraising letter notes, Palin is piling up political IOU’s through judicious use of campaign contributions.  Second, it serves as important “seed” money with which to build the infrastructure of an effective fundraising organization – a necessity if she’s going to be a serious presidential contender.  Note that to date most of her money has been raised through social networking sites, like Facebook.  This is in stark contrast to Romney, who has a full-fledged fundraising infrastructure already in place from his 2008 presidential run.  (Palin’s 2008 fundraising was controlled by McCain).   Finally, and not least, the media uses fundraising to measure candidate viability in the “invisible primary” that precedes the actually nominating process.  Because the media is not very good at juggling multiple candidate story lines, however, it is crucial that Palin create the perception that she is one of the top-tier candidates. Moreover, she is touting her ability to attract “small” donations – those less than $200 which formed a significant portion of her latest fundraising totals. About 50% of those who contributed money during the second quarter gave less than $200. That compares with the first three months of 2010, when SarahPAC earned about $400,000, with small donors making up only 25% of contributors. (Recall that this is precisely how Obama’s candidacy was deemed credible by the media – all those “small donations” [which turned out not to be so small!] propelled him into the top tier of prospective presidential candidates.)  In terms of media perceptions, Palin will pass that viability threshold if her fundraising total continues to rank among the top 2-3 candidates. As these news stories make clear, the media is beginning to portray her as a serious candidate, as opposed to the previous narrative in which she was portrayed as Governor Quitter.

The second criterion by which the media assesses candidate viability during the invisible primary is trial heat and other polling results.  Here again, Palin may yet confound the critics; the latest PPP survey of “American Voters” has her in a dead heat with Obama.

Q8 If the candidates for President next time were Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, who would you vote for?

Sarah Palin …………………………………………….. 46%

Barack Obama………………………………………… 46%

Not Sure…………………………………………………. 9%

In assessing this poll, however, keep in mind that Obama was tied with or behind almost any Republican candidate with whom he was matched in a hypothetical vote.  So this says less about voters’ attitudes toward Palin than it does their feelings about Obama.  Moreover, other polls taken earlier this month have Palin trailing Obama by significant amounts. I can’t believe she’s closed the gap that much in a matter of days. In any case, it is far too early to take these trial heat polls for 2012 matchups very seriously.

My point is simply that far from being finished, Palin is by any measure a significant player in American politics today.  The question becomes: how did she pull this off?  One clue comes by viewing her latest fundraiser video.  In it, she comes closer to capturing the spirit animating the Tea Party movement than does any other Republican candidate I’ve seen so far. And the video goes a long way toward illustrating the strengths – and the weaknesses – of a potential Palin presidential candidacy.

To begin, the video tries to do something that is not easy: to both register anger at the direction the country is going, but also to strike an uplifting tone, suggesting better times are ahead. The target audience is clearly one that is crucial to any Republican hoping to recapture the White House in 2012: women.  The video is, at its core, about women and directed toward women – almost all the faces are female, mostly white, across a range of ages.

Note that the video is almost devoid of any policy references, beyond a mild jab at the recently pass health care plan.  Instead, it tries to capture the sense of unease that is driving the tea party movement by focusing on enduring values that Palin suggests we are in danger of losing.

The video is a reminder that Palin’s candidacy is fueled by discontent more than a set of political principles, and that she is marketing a personal image more than a clearly honed political philosophy.  Consider the very name of her leadership PAC – SarahPAC – it is focused on her.  Her rivals, in contrast, have named their PACs for political ideals – see Romney’s FreeStrongAmerica PAC, or Pawlenty’s FreedomFirst PAC (The exception is Huckabee’s HuckPAC.)

Why, then, do I suggest the video also indicates her weakness as a candidate?  Despite the uplifting tone, it possesses an underlying edge.  The Mama Grizzly isn’t nurturing her cubs – she’s rearing up on her hind legs to defend them.  The pink elephants?  Ready to stampede Washington in 2010.  That effort to play both nurturing and avenging mother proved very polarizing during the 2008 campaign, I argued then, and the evidence suggests it continues to do so today.  Palin the person remains immensely attractive to a significant portion of the population.  But another portion dislikes her intensely.  Not surprisingly her favorability ratings have if anything dropped during the last year, to just under 40%, while a bit more than half of those surveyed now view her unfavorably.

It is not clear to me that it will be possible for Palin to reverse these numbers and broaden her political support.  Her biggest advantage, I think, is that liberal pundits continue to dismiss her as an intellectual lightweight who can’t think and put on lipstick at the same time.  That sentiment feeds the populist sentiment that is driving both her undeclared candidacy and the Tea Party movement more generally – that there is a Washington, DC-centered “elite” that is out of touch with the concerns of “ordinary” Americans.  If Palin can successfully position herself as the face of this movement – something the Carville letter suggests she is doing – she may yet “refudiate” her critics one more time.

Addendum:  Brendan Nyhan has an interesting post comparing Palin’s polarized support with Hillary Clinton’s, and suggesting how Palin might learn from Clinton regarding how to reduce that polarization.

Once More With Feeling: Are the Tea Partiers Racist? Why It May Not Matter

The recent vote by NAACP delegates in favor of a resolution “to condemn extremist elements within the Tea Party” and “calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches” has, predictably, refocused attention among the punditcrats on an issue that we have discussed several times before on this blog.   But the most recent batch of commentary is, in my view, missing the real story.

To see why,  I want to begin with a 7-state study conducted by Chris Parker and his colleagues at Washington University designed to measure the racial attitudes of Tea Party supporters compared to other groups.  (Thanks to Bob Johnson for asking me to comment on the Parker study.)  The Parker findings are based on a probability sample, consisting of 1006 cases stratified by states that were chosen because six of them were “battleground” states in 2008.  I urge you to look at Parker’s results using the link above, but here are some highlights, as summarized in this table:

What do we make of these findings, including the significant difference in the racial views of Tea Partiers versus non-Tea Partiers, including the “middle of the road” respondents?  Note that Parker and his colleagues reject the argument made by some conservatives that racial “resentment” is largely a function of ideology, as opposed to racial views.  When they construct an “index” of racial resentment based on answers to these survey questions, and run a regression, they find that being a Tea Party member is a significant predictor of adopting an attitude of racial resentment, even when controlling for ideology and partisanship, as indicated in the following figure.

They conclude, “[E]ven as we account for conservatism and partisanship, support for the Tea Party remains a valid predictor of racial resentment. We’re not saying that ideology isn’t important, because it is: as people become more conservative, it increases by 23 percent the chance that they’re racially resentful. Also, Democrats are 15 percent less likely than Republicans to be racially resentful. Even so, support for the Tea Party makes one 25 percent more likely to be racially resentful than those who don’t support the Tea Party.”

I  have some concerns about this study. To begin, I am uncomfortable with the  wording of some of the survey questions themselves and whether they are really tapping into “racial resentment” or some other policy dimension.  Clearly some of these concerns, such as attitudes toward immigration, have an economic component.

Other questions are asked in ways that are likely to skew results (although not necessarily differences in response rate by subgroup.)   For example, question one asks respondents to compare the histories of Irish, Italians and Jews with blacks in their ability to overcome prejudice and work their way up “without special favors.” There’s a large body of survey research that shows that when you include “hot button” words like “special favors” or “quotas”, or anything similar that suggests preferential treatment for one group as opposed to another, support for the policy in question goes down. Thus it doesn’t’ surprise me that more than half of those who are skeptics of the Tea Party movement nevertheless agree that blacks should overcome discrimination “without special favors.”

Partly because of my concerns over question wording, and uncertainty regarding just what these questions are measuring, I also wish Parker did not report only the results based on using an index of “racial resentment” as his dependent variable when trying to gauge the relative importance of  Tea Party support, ideology and partisanship on holding racially resentful views.  Instead, I wish he had shown the regression results for partisanship and ideology and Tea party membership for each of the nine survey questions.  That would more clearly show, I think, just what element in the “racial resentment” index most clearly differentiates Tea Partiers from other groups.

Finally, one might have also preferred that his regression predicting whether one holds racially intolerant views controlled for some basic demographic variables (age, gender, income, etc) that might influence results. Had he done so it is possible that some of the effects he attributes to being a Tea Party member will wash out. In Parker’s defense, however, he’s working with such small subsamples that it may be difficult to estimate more detailed regressions.

These methodological issues aside,  there’s an additional reason for my uncertainty in evaluating Parker’s findings: they seem to contradict the results of other surveys, including these findings by ABC survey analyst Gary Langer.   Langer analyzes a survey of Tea Party supporters and non-Tea Partiers and concludes:  “Ultimately, a statistical analysis indicates that the strongest predictors of supporting the Tea Party are views of Obama, ideology, partisanship and anger at the way the government is operating. Views on the extent of racism as a problem, and views on Obama’s efforts on behalf of African-Americans, are not significant predictors of support for the Tea Party movement.”

At first glance, Langer’s results seem to oppose Parker’s.   What explains the difference?  I can’t be sure, in part because when I link to the study Langer cites, he presents the results but not the actual regression analysis. So I don’t know what regression he actually ran, or the coefficients, etc.

Of course, both analysts could be right because they are not, strictly speaking, measuring the same thing. Langer is trying to predict what factors contribute to a decision to support the Tea Party, and concludes that racial views (however he defines this) is not one of them. Parker is trying to explain whether one holds views suggesting “racial resentment” and concludes that being a member of the Tea Party is a statistically significant predictor of having this attitude.

These methodological concerns notwithstanding, I think Parker’s results showing the differences in racially-oriented views between these subgroups is very provocative, and it is as good as I have seen on this topic.  Until better or more detailed surveys come around, it certainly deserves the coverage it has received (see here and  here).  But I think this coverage, such as the commentary by E.J. Dionne and Charles Blow – indeed, almost everyone who has commented on Parker’s results – are missing the real significance of his findings.   Let us assume for the sake of argument that the results in the table above should be taken at face value.  Look more closely at the differences not just between Tea Partiers and “middle of the road” respondents (however they may be defined).  Look also at the difference in views between the middle of roaders and the Tea Party “skeptics.”  If you compare the differences, you find that for seven of the nine questions, the middle of the roaders’ view are as close or closer (keeping in mind the 3% margin of error in the responses) to those of the Tea Party than they are to the Tea Party skeptics! On three questions, middle respondents are much closer to the Tea Party, while on two they are closer to Tea Party skeptics.  On the remaining four they are equally close to either set of outliers – Tea Partiers or Skeptics.

Why is this important?  Because when moderate voters (that is, Parker’s middle of the roaders) go to the polls, they don’t get to vote for their favorite centrist policy – they choose among two candidates, neither of whom may share their more  moderate views.  Parker’s results suggest that, given a choice between a racially resentful Tea Party candidate or one who runs on the Tea Party skeptics’ racial views, they may be more likely to support the Tea Party candidate.  Keep in mind that the partisan purists on both end of the spectrum are the ones who are not easily persuaded to cross party lines and vote for the other candidate.  It is the middle of the roaders who are most willing to do so.

Moreover, this is based only on a survey that focuses on racial issues.  It is not a stretch to imagine that on economic issues – jobs, government spending, the deficit – moderates may skew even more toward the Tea Party candidate if she’s opposed by a Democrat who voted in favor of the stimulus package, the Obama health care bill, and the bank bailout.

This is something Sarah Palin has grasped much more quickly than the other Republican candidates: in a highly polarized environment in which support for the party in charge is dwindling, you don’t have to be in the center on all the issues – you just have to be the last opposition candidate standing when the voters opt for “change”.  Look no further than Barack Obama to see the wisdom in this strategy.

In the current political climate, that may mean hitching one’s wagon to the Tea Party movement.  Palin has come closest of all the Republicans to becoming the face of this movement.  Thus I was not surprised to see that she chimed in here to blast the NAACP resolution, a stance that will undoubtedly strengthen her support among Tea Partiers and not incidentally also boost her growing fundraising powers.  (Her most recent quarterly earnings were her biggest to date – more on this on a later post.)

My point is that Democrats ought not to take any solace in Parker’s findings. Rather than dismissing the Tea Partiers as racists, they would do far better to  address those factors they can potentially influence, particularly the policy ideas that are motivating, to a greater or lesser degree, this movement: government spending and the deficit, unemployment, and the general perception that government has grown too large and that the nation’s ruling political class is out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.