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Are Tea Partiers Racist?

Overt racism is a fairly small component of the Tea Party movement, one that organizers have worked hard to suppress. On the other hand, it's pretty clear much of the ideology of the movement is difficult to separate from views about race. The New York Times poll of the movement finds that people sympathetic to the Tea Party movement, aside from being generally conservative, are far more likely than the general public to believe that "too much has been made of the problems facing black people." (52% of Tea Party sympathizers say this, compared with 28% of the public as a whole.)

The article showed that, like most Americans, Tea Party supporters lack any arithmetically coherent sense of fiscal priorities:

[I]n follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”
Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

This, too, fits in snugly with a racialized vision of government. Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam have conducted research showing that, even independent of ideology or partisanship, whites with ethnocentric attitudes are more hostile toward means-tested government programs, which they clearly see as benefiting other, non-white people. Meanwhile, ethnocentric whites are more likely than non-ethnocentric whites to support social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security.

The Tea Party is not racist. But it is an almost entirely white movement, largely driven by a sense that the government is taking money away from people like them and giving it to people unlike them, with "them" understood in a racial context.