Saturday, February 25, 2012

For whom Jeffrey tolls

In last weekend's featured editorial page interview, the WSJ's James Taranto wrote about longtime Republican political operative Jeffrey Bell. It makes for interesting reading from a perspective that many WSJ readers probably don't have much firsthand experience with. There are a couple sloppy assertions made, however, that are worth addressing. First, by Taranto:
The rise of the tea-party movement heartened many libertarian conservatives, who saw it as leading the Republican Party away from social conservatism.
While the impetus for the tea party's formation and the primary public focus it places is on reducing the size and scope of the federal government, the presumption that those self-identified as belonging to the tea party movement are more distinctly libertarian than the broader base of Republican voters doesn't seem to be clearly substantiated by the actual data. Taken from a Pew Research survey on tea party voters, the following table compares the percentages of self-identified tea party members from the rest of the Republican electorate on red meat economic and social issues:

Tea party
Other GOP
Prefer smaller government
Government almost always wasteful
Corporations make too much profit
Favor same-sex marriage
Abortion should be illegal in most/all cases
Better border security should be a priority in dealing with illegal immigration
Protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership

With the exception of same-sex marriage, for which tea partiers are marginally more supportive than the rest of Republican voters are, tea party types are generally more conservative versions of the GOP electorate. Pew didn't query respondents on their foreign policy views, but I suspect tea partiers also tend to be more hawkish on Iran and more firmly supportive of Israel than other Republican voters are.

As summarized by Pew in the aforementioned report:
Tea Party supporters tend to have conservative opinions not just about economic matters, but also about social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In addition, they are much more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that their religion is the most important factor in determining their opinions on these social issues. And they draw disproportionate support from the ranks of white evangelical Protestants.
Secondly, from Bell:
Mr. Bell, for his part, sees in social conservatism opportunities for the GOP to expand its appeal among minority communities. "Latino voters tend to be more socially conservative," Mr. Bell says, noting that in 2008 they backed California's Proposition 8, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling establishing same-sex marriage, by 53% to 47%. Non-Hispanic whites narrowly opposed the measure.
Nothing stated here is explicitly incorrect, but there are problems by way of omission. Blacks voted for Proposition 8 by a 70%-30% margin, so by Bell's logic, blacks should be riper targets for Republican conversions than Hispanics are. But most (though not all) conservative pundits, including Bell and Taranto, know better than that.

Further, to point to Hispanics voting a whopping 4 points to the right of a leftist white electorate (whites opposed Prop 8 51%-49%) like California's as evincing a major opportunity for the Republican party is just silly.

Bell also expresses sympathy for the WSJ's view that immigration restrictionism hurts the Republican party... by turning Hispanics away from it, of course--no one appears to care or have anything to say about how it will affect the much more consequential white vote. In neighboring Arizona, however, where white voters are considerably further to the right than California's whites are (only 40% of white Arizonans voted for Obama, while 52% of white Californians did), Hispanics voted in favor of Proposition 202, which increased penalties on those employing illegal immigrants, by 56%-44%, a level of support just 4 points to the left of white Arizonans. While restrictionism won't win over a naturally hostile voting bloc, the evidence shows again and again that it doesn't do much, if anything, to repel them, either.


E said...

I'm confused about your point regarding the relative non-libertarianism of Tea Party members vs. the rest of the GOP. The table you show seems to indicate (mostly) the opposite:

Prefer small gov't (tea: 88% rest: 80%)
Gov't always wasteful (t. 87% rest: 79%)
Corps make too much: (t. 30% rest: 37%)
Favor Same-sex marraige (t. 26% rest: 24%)

Only abortion and stronger border enforcement are Tea Party people less libertarian.

Audacious Epigone said...


Same-sex marriage is almost at parity, and the other three social issues tea partiers take stock social conservative positions (although the gun control one doesn't really distinguish between social conservatives and libertarians because they're on the same page there). The point is, tea partiers don't really represent the libertarian wing of the Republican party as much they do the more fervently conservative wing of it.

E said...


If we need to distinguish between libertarians and social conservatives, then I suppose we essentially have to disregard questions 1-3 (the economic ones) and 7 (the gun control one) where the two camps largely agree. This leaves only three questions: same sex marriage, abortion, and immigration.

By this standard, the "socially conservative" positions "win" 2 to 1, though the abortion differential is only a single percentage point higher than the same-sex marriage one. (Also, a minority of libertarians---Ron Paul! included---actually oppose abortion on libertarian grounds.)

I'm not so sure the higher Tea Party support for economically conservative policies should be dismissed out of hand either. The "divisions" on the Right between social conservatives and economic conservatives are often exaggerated, but I would think the intensity of support for a more pro-free market (classical) liberalism might be a clue to greater libertarian sympathies.

I'm not dismissing the idea that self-identified Tea Party supporters are not distinguishable from ordinary conservatives. I'm just not confident these data alone are adequate to reach that conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused about your point regarding the relative non-libertarianism of Tea Party members vs. the rest of the GOP. The table you show seems to indicate (mostly) the opposite

I guess it all depends on what you think the words "libertarian" and "conservative" mean. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that favoring smaller government makes a person libertarian, when it could just as well be a sign that they are conservative.

Anonymous said...

longtime Republican political operative Jeffrey Bell

All you need to know about the GOP is summed up by "longtime Republican political operative Jeffrey Bell" not knowing that Hispanics are more liberal on social issues than are whites or blacks.

They are also much more liberal on fiscal issues.

How is it possible that the Republicans who should be experts on these topics are instead so comically ignorant about them?

Anonymous said...

As a sort of libertarian, sort of conservative, I was heartened by the Tea Party. For about two days, before I realized what they really were.