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2011 Multi-State Survey of Race and Politics
Christopher S. Parker, Principal Investigator

The Multi-State Survey of Race and Politics (2011) is a follow-up to the MSSRP (2010) conducted last year in which we sought to assess the relationship between race and various political issues, including feelings toward the new president and his policies, patriotism, national identity, racism, civil liberties, the rights of minority groups, and political participation. The 2010 MSSRP surveyed seven (7) states. We expanded the states surveyed in 2011 to better understand the dynamics of the Tea Party. To do so, we added five (5) additional states in which a candidate of the United States Senate either won the seat with backing from one of the six major Tea Party factions, or came close to winning the seat. To the extent that we also sought regional balance, the following states were selected: AZ, CO, FL, PA, and WI. We added SC simply because its junior senator is the leader of the Tea Party caucus in the Senate.

With these additional states added to our original sample drawn from CA, GA, MI, MO, NC, NV, OH, we touched on recent policy   issues, e.g., the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the issue of birthright citizenship, support for the war in Afghanistan, and whether or not respondents want President Obama’s policies to succeed or fail. We also asked questions tapping support for federal spending for various programs, including Social Security and Medicare. The survey also asks several questions in an attempt to assess the extent to which the public subscribes to accusations that the president isn’t American, is a practicing Muslim, and such. The survey has an extensive battery of questions concerning immigration as well as items that tackle civil liberties. The MSSRP (2011) survey questionnaire and toplines are now available. 

Finally, the survey was conducted between January 24th and March 12th, 2011. The MSSRP (2011) is a probability sample, stratified by the aforementioned 13 states in which we interviewed adult residents. We completed 1,504 telephone interviews (weighted n = 1,547), averaging 40 minutes per interview, with a 56% Cooperation Rate. The margin of error is +/- 2.5. The Center for Survey Research at the University of Washington conducted the data collection. 

Are Tea Party Conservatives different from other Conservatives?

We sought to investigate this question in response to critiques leveled by conservatives such as David Brooks, David Frum, and most recently George Will and Michael Medved. Each, it seems, question the strategies, if not always the philosophy, of groups affiliated with the Right, including the Tea Party. More to the point, these commentators suggest that the Tea Party, as a whole, holds opinions at variance with more mainstream conservatives, opinions that may hurt the Republican party in the next election cycle. Others on the Right, such as Peggy Noonan and Juan Williams, view the Tea Party as a net positive. Noonan sees the movement is a “critique” of the Republican party; Williams sees it as a reflection of mainstream concerns of Americans. Which view is closer to the truth? The data suggest that differences abound.

To capture the difference between the two camps, we asked whether or not people thought the following proposition true: “Barack Obama is destroying the country.” If Tea Party conservatives were as extreme as some suggest, we thought asking a question of this type, i.e., fairly extreme, would tease out differences between the two camps. The data suggest the two conservative factions are divided on this question. Under these circumstances, 6% of non-Tea Party conservatives believe the president is destroying the country versus the 71% of Tea Party conservatives who believe this to be true. (click here for full results.)

It stands to reason that these differences should also affect the way these two groups view President Obama’s policies. They do. Consider, for instance, the question of whether or not people wish to see the president’s policies succeed. More than twice as many Tea Party conservatives desire to see the president’s policies fail (76%) than non-Tea Party conservatives (32%). (As a corollary, 53% of non-Tea Party conservatives wish to see the president’s policies succeed versus 18% of Tea Party conservatives.) Why might this be the case? Why do so many Tea Party conservatives wish to see the president’s policies fail, relative to non-Tea Party conservatives? Perhaps it’s because three quarters (75 %) of Tea Party conservatives believe that President Obama’s policies are socialist compared to 40% of non-Tea Party conservative, a disparity of 35 % points. (click here for full results.)

With such a wide disparity in the sentiments held toward the president’s stewardship of the country and his policies, we sought to identify other possible sources of difference. To do so, we took advantage of a battery of questions in which we probed respondents for their knowledge of the president, including whether or not he was born in the United States, has a birth certificate, is a practicing Muslim, and a practicing Christian. Again, differences between non-Tea Party and Tea Party conservatives emerge. When asked about President Obama’s religious orientation, 27% of Tea Party conservatives believe that Obama is a practicing Muslim compared to 16% of non- Tea Party conservatives, both relatively low; nevertheless, an 11-point difference.  More conservative type believe the president a practicing Christian, 27% of Tea Party conservatives versus 46% of non-Tea Party conservatives, but the gap here is even larger: 19%.  When it comes to President Obama’s national origin, 40% of Tea Party conservatives believe that Obama was born in the U.S. compared to 55% of non-Tea Party conservatives.  Additionally, 26% of Tea Party conservatives believe that President Obama does not have a birth certificate, while 17% of non-Tea Party conservatives believe this to be the case. (click here for full results.)

Since we had such a high number of people saying that they either had no opinion on these questions, or didn’t know the answer, we checked to see if whether or not the perceived race of the interviewer (it’s a telephonic survey) affected the likelihood of offering a “no opinion” or “don’t know” response. It matters. If the interviewer was perceived as white, conservatives were less likely say “don’t know” or “no opinion” than if the interviewer was perceived as non-white. In the latter case, respondents were far more likely to opt for these options. We also found that conservatives were more likely to view President Obama as alien if they believed themselves to be interviewed by someone white than a non-white interviewer. (click here for the results.)

All of the above support the claims made by Brooks, Frum, Will, and Medved that Tea Party conservatives are out of step with more mainstream conservatives. Moreover, these findings at the mass level validate what we’ve found at the elite level in an ongoing content analysis of the Tea Party. In short, the data suggest that there is an emerging split among conservatives. If this is true, how will this affect Republicans come 2012?

Contact Prof. Parker via email at: csparker@uw.edu, or visit his web page

Media Featuring MSSRP Data:
Professor Parker's Comments on Salon.com
Joan Walsh's Comments on Salon.com
Leonard Pitts's Column in the Miami Herald
Arian Campos-Flores in Newsweek
Tom Schaller on 538.com