The Tea Party
- LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0096
- LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0096
The Tea Party is a loosely coordinated right-wing political upsurge that began in the first weeks of the administration of President Barack Obama. Tea Party symbolism was adopted by three intersecting conservative political forces: grassroots activists, right-wing media, and ultra-free-market advocacy and funding organizations supported by wealthy and corporate interests. Under the banner of the Tea Party, these three forces protested Obama administration priorities, reshaped public debates, and pushed the Republican Party farther to the right. In early 2009, conservative media helped scattered grassroots conservatives rapidly create a dramatic identity, share information, and build a sense of momentum for their new “Tea Party” protests. These protestors soon began to organize what became about one thousand local groups. These activists—conservatives at the rightward edge of the Republican Party—tend to be older, white, and slightly better educated and economically more comfortable than other Americans. Many are social conservatives, but a sizable minority describe themselves as libertarian and are more secular in orientation. Like many Americans of their generation, Tea Party participants often collect federal social benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, and benefits for military veterans. Although they express deep concern about government spending, Tea Partiers believe their own benefits are legitimate. They oppose spending taxpayer money on people they perceive as undeserving, such as unauthorized immigrants, low-income people, minorities, and the young. President Obama is perceived by Tea Party members as acting in the interest of the undeserving at the expense of hardworking Americans. Grassroots activists often engage in political activity on the local or state level, but they have little capacity to hold accountable the national political leaders who have associated themselves with the Tea Party label. The conservative resurgence under the Tea Party banner has had important ramifications for the balance of power within the Republican Party. Far-right elites who have been promoting a low-tax, anti-regulation agenda since the 1970s were quick to connect themselves with the Tea Party protests and to claim grassroots support for their own ideology and policy goals, including privatization of Social Security and Medicare. Popular Tea Party forces are more likely than elites, however, to oppose immigration reforms including any path to citizenship for undocumented residents. Elites claiming to speak for the Tea Party have provided crucial endorsements and funding to far-right Republican candidates. In 2010, Tea Party–linked candidates were primarily successful in Republican strongholds. The more extreme views of Republicans who won elections in 2010 propelled the GOP further rightward, extending a long-term trend of rightward-tilted polarization in US politics.
As of early 2012, relatively few books or articles have been written providing a general overview of all facets of the Tea Party phenomenon. The best works distinguish the elite and grassroots activism operating under the “Tea Party” banner (Bailey, et al. 2011). Skocpol and Williamson 2012 provides a succinct overview of the components of the Tea Party, and explains their dynamics over time, while Formisano 2012 provides a short introduction. Zernike 2010 is a journalistic account of several of the major public events held by Tea Party activists in 2009 and early 2010, with polling of Tea Party sympathizers and interviews with some of the elite actors who attempted to harness Tea Party enthusiasm. Street and DiMaggio 2011 offers a critical analysis of the role of the mass media in the Tea Party mobilization, a point also emphasized in Williamson, et al. 2011. Madestam, et al. connects the Tea Party to anti-tax protests. Two works aim to put the Tea Party into a longer historical analysis. Kabaservice 2012 gives important context for the Tea Party by examining the decades-long decline of moderates in the Republican Party, while Bunch 2010 visits the fringes of the far right, including some elements of the Tea Party. An interpretive work, Lepore 2010 uses anecdotes from Tea Party activists to examine popular perceptions of the American Revolution over time. And van Dyke and Meyer 2014 analyzes the Tea Party as a social movement.
Bailey, Michael, Jonathan Mummolo, and Hans Noel. 2011. “The Tea Party and Multiple Channels of Influence on Congress.” Paper presented at the D.C.-Area American Politics Workshop, Washington, DC, 21 June 2011.
Authors examine the effect of elite and grassroots forces within the Tea Party on representation in Congress.
Bunch, Will. The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. New York: Harper, 2010.
A left-leaning perspective on the fringes of the right, which nonetheless offers compelling portraits of some grassroots activists.
Formisano, Ronald P. The Tea Party: A Brief History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.
A short introduction to the Tea Party from a scholar of populist movements.
Kabaservice, Geoffrey. Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, from Eisenhower to the Tea Party. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
A useful narrative of the decades-long decline of moderates in the Republican Party.
Lepore, Jill. The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.
A book primarily examining popular perceptions of the American Revolution; Lepore includes anecdotes from Tea Party activists in the Boston area.
Madestam, Andreas, Daniel Shoag, Stan Veuger, and David Yanagizawa-Drott. “Do Political Protests Matter? Evidence from the Tea Party Movement.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 128.4 (2013): 1633–1685.
A quantitative analysis using rainfall on the day of protests as an exogenous source of variation finds that Tax Day protest turnout in 2009 predicted Tea Party support.
Skocpol, Theda, and Vanessa Williamson. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Skocpol and Williamson combine fine-grained portraits of local Tea Party members and chapters with an overarching analysis of the movement’s rise, impact, and likely fate.
Street, Paul, and Anthony DiMaggio. Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2011.
An analysis of the role of the media in the rise of the Tea Party.
van Dyke, Nella, and David S. Meyer. Understanding the Tea Party Movement. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014.
An edited volume that examines the Tea Party movement from within the framework of social movement scholarship.
Williamson, Vanessa, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin. “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” Perspectives on Politics 9.1 (2011): 25–43.
A case study of the Greater Boston Tea Party is brought together with media content analysis to consider the interaction of the various forces making up the Tea Party.
Zernike, Kate. Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America. New York: Times Books, 2010.
A journalist’s account of Tea Party protests, activities of elite advocates, and polling results regarding Tea Party demographics.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Advanced Democracies, Electoral System Reform in
- Advanced Democracies, Public Opinion and Public Policy in
- Advertising and Election Campaigns in the United States
- Africa, Comparative Politics of
- African Development, Politics of
- American Indian Politics
- Arab-Israel Conflict, The
- Arendt, Hannah
- Aristotle's Political Thought
- Arms Race Modeling
- Australia and New Zealand, Comparative Politics of
- Authoritarianism in Russia
- Authoritarianism in the Public
- Authoritarianism in Turkey
- Bicameralism in Stable Democracies
- Big Data in Political Science Research
- Biopolitics and State Regulation of Human Life
- Brazilian Political Development
- Business-State Relations in Europe
- Campaign Finance in the Era of Super-PACS
- Canadian Foreign Policy
- Candidate Emergence and Recruitment
- Channels of Electoral Representation in Advanced Industria...
- China's One-Child Policy
- China-Taiwan Relations
- Chinese Communist Party
- Chinese Economic Policy
- Chinese Nationalism
- Civil Society in South Asia
- Civil War in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Civil-Military Relations in Asia
- Civil-Military Relations in Latin America
- Class in American Politics
- Climate Change and Politics
- Comparative Capitalism Theory
- Comparative Industrial Relations in Europe
- Comparative Politics of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bis...
- Comparative Politics of Chile and Uruguay
- Comparative Politics of Federalism
- Comparative Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
- Congress, Defense, and Foreign Policy
- Congressional Reassertion of Authority
- Conservative Litigation Strategies and Groups in US Judici...
- Corruption in China
- Cosmopolitan Political Thought
- Crisis of European Integration in Historical Perspective, ...
- Critical Elections, Partisan Realignment, and Long-Term El...
- Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School
- Cuban Political Development
- Cycles of Protest
- Democracy and Authoritarianism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Democracy and Dictatorship in Central Asia
- Democracy in Latin America
- Democratic Citizenship
- Democratic Consolidation
- Democratic Peace Theory
- Democratic Theory
- Democratization in Africa
- Democratization in Central America
- Democratization in Mexico
- Development of Survey Research
- Direct Democracy in the United States
- East Africa, Politics of
- Economic Voting
- Election Forecasting
- Election Laws in Democracies
- Electoral and Party System Development in Sub-Saharan Afri...
- Electoral Change in Latin America
- Electoral Reform and Voting in the United States
- Emotion and Racial Attitudes in Contemporary American Poli...
- Environmental Governance
- Environmental Politics among Advanced Industrial Democraci...
- Ethnic Diasporas and US Foreign Policy
- Ethnic Politics
- Eurasia, Comparative Politics of
- European Social Democracy
- European Union, Politics of the
- Failed and Weak States in Theory and Practice
- Far-Right Parties in Europe
- Federalism in the United States
- Feminist Political Thought
- Field Experiments
- Filibuster, The
- Gender and Electoral Politics in the United States
- Gender and International Relations
- Gender, Behavior, and Representation
- Global Inequality
- Globalization and the Welfare State
- Globalization, Health Crises, and Health Care
- Governance in Africa
- Governmental Responses to Political Corruption
- Gridlock and Divided Government in the U.S.
- Historiography of Twentieth-Century American Conservatism,...
- Hobbes’s Political Thought
- Hume's Political Thought
- Hybrid Regimes
- Identity and Political Behavior
- Ideological Reasoning in Politics
- Immigrant Incorporation in Canada
- Immigrant Incorporation in Western Europe
- Immigration and International Relations
- Immigration Politics and Policy in the United States
- Impact of Campaign Contributions on Congressional Behavior...
- Implicit Attitudes in Public Opinion
- Income Dynamics and Politics in North America and Europe
- Income Inequality and Advanced Democracies
- Income Inequality in the United States, The Politics of
- Indian Democracy
- Indigenous Rights and Governance in Canada, Australia, and...
- Informal Practices of Accountability in Urban Africa
- Institutional Change in Advanced Democracies
- Intellectual Property in International Relations
- Interest Groups and Inequality in the United States
- Interest Groups in American Politics
- Interethnic Contact and Impact on Attitudes
- International Conflict Management
- International Criminal Justice
- International Law
- International NGOs
- International Political Economy of Illegal Drugs
- Internet and Politics, The
- Iran, Political Development of
- Israeli Politics
- Judicial Supremacy and National Judicial Review
- Judiciaries and Politics in East Asia
- Kant's Political Thought
- Labor Politics in East Asia
- Land Reform in Latin America
- Latin America, Democratic Transitions in
- Latin America, Environmental Policy and Politics in
- Latin America, Guerrilla Insurgencies in
- Latin America, Social Movements in
- Legal Mobilization
- LGBT Politics in the United States
- Liberal Pluralism
- Local Governments in the United States
- Machiavelli’s Political Thought
- Marx's Political Thought
- Mass Incarceration and US Politics
- Mechanisms of Representation
- Media Effects in Politics
- Media Politics in South Asia
- Mexican Political Development
- Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the Un...
- Modern Dynastic Rule
- Modern Elections and Voting Behavior in Europe
- Motivated Reasoning
- National Interbranch Politics in the United States
- NATO, Politics of
- Negative Campaigning
- Neoclassical Realism
- New Institutionalism Revisited, The
- North America, Comparative Politics of
- Oil, Politics of
- Origins and Impact of Proportional Representation, The
- Outcomes of Social Movements and Protest Activities
- Partisan and Nonpartisan Theories of Organization in the U...
- Partisan Polarization in the US Congress
- Partisan Polarization in the US Electorate
- Party Networks
- Peace Operations
- Personality and Politics
- Plato's Political Thought
- Policy Feedback
- Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion
- Political Ambition
- Political Economy of Financial Regulation in Advanced Ind...
- Political Economy of India
- Political Economy of Taxation, The
- Political Geography in American Politics
- Political Obligation
- Political Parties and Electoral Politics of Japan
- Political Thought, Hegel's
- Political Thought of the American Founders, The
- Politics and Policy in Contemporary Argentina
- Politics of Anti-Americanism
- Politics of Class Formation
- Politics of Disaster Prevention and Management
- Politics of Financial Crises
- Politics of Foreign Direct Investment in South Asia
- Politics of Higher Education in the U.S.
- Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Can...
- Politics of Japan
- Politics of Natural Disasters, The
- Politics of North Korea
- Politics of Science and Technology
- Politics of South Africa
- Politics of Southern Africa
- Politics of the American South
- Politics of the US-Mexico Border
- Postcolonialism and International Relations
- Post-Communist Democratization
- Preferential Trade Agreements, Politics of
- Presidential Persuasion and Public Opinion
- Presidential Primaries and Caucuses
- Private Governance
- Public Opinion in Advanced Industrial Democracies
- Public Opinion in New Democracies and Developing Nations
- Public Presidency, US Elections, and the Permanent Campaig...
- Qualitative Methods, The Renewal of
- Race in American Political Thought
- Racial and Ethnic Descriptive Representation in the United...
- Regime Transitions and Variation in Post-Communist Europe
- Regional Integration in Latin America
- Regional Security
- Regulating Food Production
- Religion in American Political Thought
- Religion in Contemporary Political Thought
- Religion, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the United Sta...
- Rousseau's Political Thought
- Rule of Law
- Russia and the West
- Science and Democracy
- Science and Social Movements
- Social Policy and Immigrant Integration
- South Korea, Politics of
- Spectacle, The
- State Building in Sub-Saharan Africa
- State Formation
- State, The Nature of the
- Supreme Court and Public Opinion
- Supreme Court of the United States, The
- Systemic Theories of International Politics
- Taiwan, Politics of
- Tea Party, The
- Thailand, Politics of
- The New Right in American Political Thought
- Transitional Justice
- Transnational Private Regulation
- Turkey, Political Development of
- US Military Bases Abroad
- US Presidency, The
- US Presidential Campaigns and Their Impact
- Voter Turnout
- Voter Turnout Field Experiments
- Welfare State Development
- Welfare State Development in Latin America
- Welfare State Development in Western Europe
- West Africa, Politics of
- Worker Politics in China
- Youth and Generational Differences in US Politics