The Tea Party Coalition: Some Racial Resentment, Lots of Economic Resentment

51 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2016

Date Written: September 29, 2015


In this paper I argue that the main impulse underlying the tea party movement is a conviction that activist government unfairly rewards the undeserving at the expense of the productive leading them to demand limited government. I say main impulse because racial resentment and other illiberal attitudes also contribute to tea party involvement. But illiberal motives do not play the dominant role that much of the leading research suggests. When tests are properly conducted, preference for limited government is the strongest and most consistent predictor of tea party support. Further I show the tea party is a heterogeneous coalition, consisting of three distinct groups. I find the largest of these subgroups has a strongly libertarian flavor and scarcely a whiff of racial animus. Social conservatives comprise another significant group, with strong preferences for limited government and moral traditionalism, and some racially conservative attitudes. Racial conservatives are a substantial subgroup too, but my analysis shows that they are no less motivated by the issue of limited government than others in the movement. These groups are different from one another but came together in the same movement largely because they shared a belief that the federal government had violated basic fairness in its response to difficult economic times.

Keywords: tea party, tea party movement, limited government, racial resentment, proportionality, just deserts, social movements

Suggested Citation

Ekins, Emily E., The Tea Party Coalition: Some Racial Resentment, Lots of Economic Resentment (September 29, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Emily E. Ekins (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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