When you normally think of Tea Party supporters, the first image that comes to mind is an anti-Obama mob mixing Confederate flags and old school yellow Gadsden flags, flapping coiled rattlesnakes in the wind. Step outside the Beltway, head mostly south, and you could find a rally or two with a rifle-toting Duck Dynasty lookalike.
Yet, a recent YouGov poll – while showing a general decline in Tea Party backing – altered that perception when it showed a combined 18 percent African-American support for the tea party. Not Black Republican support – overall Black support. While only three percent of African Americans indicated “strong support” for the Tea Party, a surprisingly high 15 percent of African Americans said they “somewhat support” the Tea Party, as well as 15 percent who “neither support, nor oppose” the Tea Party.
Added up, that’s 33 percent of Black voters who don’t oppose the tea party.
Granted, none of these numbers correlate to any remarkable shift of Black voters to the Republican Party. Keeping with tradition, that same YouGov poll shows only five percent of African Americans identify as Republican.
When asked about the poll, YouGov maintained caution. The Black and Latino samples are small, said analysts at YouGov, and there’s a need for follow-up questions on what voters believe Tea Party principles are. Do they understand, exactly, what they’re supporting – or not opposing?
Such numbers reflect a growing vein of disenchantment and anger throughout the American electorate as voters grow increasingly impatient with lawmakers in Washington. While legislators on Capitol Hill spar with President Obama over Benghazi and the Veterans Affairs scandal, poll after poll confirms continued weariness over the state of a muggy economy. In the case of African Americans, unemployment and underemployment rates are still dramatically higher than any other demographic – with official jobless rates at twice the national average.
Democrats are worried that Black voters, along with Latinos, will be sitting out this year’s upcoming midterm elections. Not only is President Barack Obama’s name not on the ballot, but strategists are concerned that Black voters seem generally unmoved by Congressional Democrats, mostly out of resignation.
In the meantime, many Latino voters resent the record high immigrant deportation numbers under the Obama administration. In that same YouGov poll, 31 percent of Latino voters claimed combined support for the Tea Party.
“Elections can promote unrealistic expectations of what a politician can accomplish while in office,” explains Khalilah L. Brown-Dean, an associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University. “The rules of the game dictate that political change is always slow, incremental and the result of intense compromise across branches and parties. That pace leaves many Americans disenchanted at best and resentful at worst.”
“For African Americans and Latinos, there is a growing sense of frustration with the traditional two-party system,” adds Brown-Dean. “[It] allows Republicans to ignore racial realities while encouraging Democrats to take their support for granted.”
According to YouGov, the level of that support for Democrats is waning – but, it’s not shifting to Republicans either. Black voter affiliation with the Democratic Party is at 63 percent, compared to 32 percent identifying themselves as Independents.
John Hudak a Brookings Institution Fellow in Governance Studies and Managing Editor of FixGov, attributes the Tea Party numbers and rise of Independents to growing disillusionment and anger. “Anger is surely a driver of turnout, of public opinion, and of political activity in general,” argues Hudak. “It remains a motivating factor in the 2014 campaign, as it has in prior campaigns as well. The Tea Party has seized this anger and helped build a movement around it.”
Hudak adds that polling showing support for the Tea Party among groups not traditionally associated with conservative causes suggests the extent of a jaded electorate. It also offers clues on the extent of public policy problems impacting specific groups.
“Segments of the Latino and Black communities expressing support for the Tea Party may reflect how hard economic and social challenges have affected these groups,” adds Hudak. “However, it is important to caution that poll respondents’ support for the Tea Party or its values depends tremendously on how a question is asked. When it comes to it, will large portions of Black and Latino voters move away from the Democratic Party (or even mainstream Republicans) and support Tea Party candidates? Absolutely not.
In addition, the Tea Party itself is losing steam from its core Republican Party pool of recruits. In 2010, 61 percent of Republicans leaned Tea Party – now, only 41 percent do. “Tea Party support, more than anything else, appears to substantially correlate with the more straightforward characteristics of being a core, conservative Republican,” observes Gallup’s Frank Newport. “Thus, these trends may suggest that the GOP is on a more moderate track in general.”
“Still, whatever else happens, Tea Party supporters will continue to be a presence in American politics because of their apparent motivation and interest in election outcomes, factors that, more than likely, will translate into support for candidates and higher Election Day turnout,” Newport adds.
“But let’s make it plain,” offers Brown-Dean. “The Tea Party is not an effective outlet for minority voters to channel their political disenchantment.”
“Perhaps it’s time to build an effective third party that advances the policy priorities of communities of color.”