After a comment that triggered some semi-deep thinking while killing time in Grand Island, NE - where the crops looked great and a report of a $14,000 IA land sale poleaxed the meeting - I decided I needed to be more scupulous in inferences regarding the Tea Party in lieu of actual facts.
Luckily, one researcher whose work I have long admired has already done some heavy lifting in this area.
In 2006, Robert Putnam and David Campbell began a research project on political attitudes that included interviewing a nationally representative sample of 3,000 Americans. They then went back to talk to the same group of people over this summer. “As a result,” they explain, “we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later.” Their findings are going to make a lot of people unhappy:Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.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 ...Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics. It thus makes sense that the Tea Party ranks alongside the Christian Right in unpopularity.[More]
As I look at grain farmers who are wallowing in totally unexpected income and asset bonanzas, while many supporting the TP agenda, I wonder how they arrive at that juncture. It could be their moral and economic principles override the considerable gain they are enjoying, or as the above research shows, it may simply boil down to the same social conservative issues the TP refuses to acknowledge mixed with a strong aversion to a young, black President.
I can hear the shouts of "race card" already, but I have also heard the jokes in the restroom and read some of the flood of anti-Obama e-mails I get. [And I respect Putnam's research skills immensely.] This president came before were we really ready as a culture, but almost all change does. I don't think my sons' generation would blink twice at such an outcome.
For our WASP industry, it is even harder and, despite unprecedented economic prosperity, and (to my mind foolish) administration support for ethanol, the prejudices are not leavened with enough personal experience to be set aside easily. We simply don't have enough contact with people like Obama to temper our opinions, I think. [And despite my considerable disappointment with his decisions on matter like Lybia, Guantanamo, torture prosecutions, legislative strategy, farm policy, and economic stimulus (too little), etc. he remains a better choice than the alternatives IMHO.]
So when we rail against the Welfare State, we have a picture in our minds of fat, black, unmarried women with several children and an attitude of entitlement. And we are viscerally opposed to that system.
But the numbers show something different.
Welfare MisperceptionsWorse still, we farmers too are on the government dole, only our entitlement is somehow more just. We call our slice of the Welfare State a "safety net". Like most Americans we can overlook our government check without a qualm.
Welfare has come to be associated with poverty. Additionally, blacks have overwhelmingly dominated images of poverty over the last few decades. As Martin Gilens, assistant professor of Political Science at Yale University, states, “white Americans with the most exaggerated misunderstandings of the racial composition of the poor are the most likely to oppose welfare”. This perception possibly perpetuates negative racial stereotypes and could increase Americans’ opposition and racialization of welfare policies.
Welfare Disparities in Welfare Reform
Much research has shown that: “whites are leaving welfare faster than blacks; among those leaving, blacks are more likely to be forced off welfare; blacks are more likely to exhaust their time allowed on welfare; and blacks are more likely to cycle back onto welfare after having left". A recent study shows the majority of Welfare recipients are white and live in suburbs or rural areas. The findings are contrary to the popular belief that most welfare recipients are unemployed, inner-city minorities whose families have gotten public assistance for generations.
The majority of Americans who receive welfare checks are not black. The majority of those who receive welfare checks are white.  Since the implementation of TANF, the percentages of black and Hispanic families have increased, while the percentage of white families has decreased. In 1992, blacks represented 37 percent of those on welfare; by 2002, this number increased slightly to 38 percent. In that same time period, the percentage of Hispanics rose from 18 percent to 25 percent. On the other hand, the percentage of whites on welfare decreased from 39 percent to 32 percent in that same time frame.
Additionally, because TANF gave individual states increased flexibility in imposing time-limited welfare policies, the reforms implemented vary by state. Recent policy studies have found a statistically significant relationship between the racial makeup of a state’s welfare population and whether the state adopts tougher welfare policies. Aggressive get-tough reforms include full-family sanctions, short time limits, and family cap policies. Essentially, as the percentage of blacks in the welfare population rises, the probability that the state will adopt full-family sanctions increases from 54 to 97 percent; the probability that the state will adopt a family cap increases from 5 percent to 96 percent; and the probability that the state will adopt a shorter time limit than five years increases from 10 to 88 percent. Moreover, nonwhites are more likely to live in states with tougher policies. [More]
The Tea Party conviction they will obstruct our system to a more perfect union is hard to game out. Their spokespersons are pretty vague about how they will accomplish their goals. The TP is about tearing down, which is not a bad idea. But I see no evidence they know how to build anything nor even a realization how much they themselves depend on the system they propose to eliminate.
I will continue to question my opinions of the far right agenda, but at this point I am unconvinced they offer anything but encouragement for spite and self-interest.