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New Data: Tea Party is Authoritarian, Not Libertarian

The Intersection
By Chris Mooney
Aug 17, 2011 9:26 PMNov 20, 2019 5:17 AM


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The New York Times just ran an oped by social scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, reporting on polling results about the Tea Party. This dovetails very closely with a discussion we've been having here, and provides additional evidence suggesting that this movement is not libertarian:

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do. More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 - opposing abortion, for example - and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek "deeply religious" elected officials, approve of religious leaders' engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party's generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

Libertarians, if they stand for anything, stand for less government interference in people's lives--e.g., they are civil libertarians. So imposing religion on others is absolute anathema to them. But authoritarians? Is that what they believe? Again, let's consult the expert, Robert Altemeyer. Here's Altemeyer on authoritarianism and religion:

Authoritarians get a lot of their ideas about how people ought to act from their religion, and as we’ll see in chapter 4 they tend to belong to fundamentalist religions that make it crystal clear what they consider correct and what they consider wrong. For example these churches strongly advocate a traditional family structure of father-as-head, mother as subservient to her husband and caretaker of the husband’s begotten, and kids as subservient, period. The authoritarian followers who fill a lot of the pews in these churches strongly agree. And they want everybody’s family to be like that. (A word of advice, guys: check with your wives first.)

And here's Altemeyer on how authoritarians view the out-group--other races, immigrants, etc. This quote is a little longer because it reports the results of a survey:

Here are some items from another scale. How would you respond to them on a -4 to +4 basis?

I’ll bet you have figured out that I use these to measure prejudice. You may be taken aback however to discover that these prejudices usually show up bundled together in a person. But social psychologists found long ago that people who are prejudiced against one group are usually prejudiced against a whole lot more as well. Prejudice has little to do with the groups it targets, and a lot to do with the personality of the holder. Want to guess who has such wide-ranging prejudices? Authoritarian followers dislike so many kinds of people, I have called them “equal opportunity bigots.”

Why do we confuse libertarianism with authoritarianism so much, when they are so different? That's a whole 'nother post, and it goes to the heart of our inability to understand our own politics.

1. There are entirely too many people from the wrong sorts of places being admitted into our country now. 2. Black people are, by their nature, more violent and “primitive” than others. 3. Jews cannot be trusted as much as other people can. 4. As a group, aboriginal people are naturally lazy, dishonest and lawless. 5. Arabs are too emotional, and they don’t fit in well in our country. 6. We have much to fear from the Japanese, who are as cruel as they are ambitious.

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