Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tea Party III

I blogged first here and then here about how scholars might study the Tea Party movement.  One obvious question is, how many people identify with this movement?  And then along comes some discussion on AAPORnet and someone pointing to this Iowa poll that shows, at least in that state, about one third of those surveyed "consider yourself a supporter of the tea party movement."  Someone else pointed out a similar poll of California found 28 percent either "somewhat" or "strongly" identify with the movement (I haven't found the actual poll yet, sorry).

Of course the movement itself is tapping anger at a lot of different, disconnected topics, driven in a large part by a lousy economy and federal bailouts of major financial institutions to keep a lousy economy from becoming, well, a lousier one.  In the movement you have fiscal hawks and Obama birthers sharing the same oxygen, so it's hard to easily summarize such a diverse group.  Many are serious, a few are wingnuts -- which also describes a lot of Democratic gatherings.

Politics aside and getting all PhDweebish, how to go about studying the movement raises some fascinating theoretical and methodological problems.  Is "identification" enough?  What the hell does that mean, anyway, from a practical and theoretical standpoint?

Ways I'd attack this problem:
  • Separate attitude from behavior.  First get those who actually attended rallies as being the most "out there" in the movement, followed by those who participated in some other way (online, perhaps).  And at the other end of the behavior spectrum are the sympathizers who didn't actually do much.
  • Tease out political frustration from economic frustration, or the assignment of blame.  Is losing a job and being frustrated make one a "tea bagger?"  I don't think so.  Needs exploring.
  • What media do members of the movement consume?  Fox, yeah.  Hannity and Limbaugh, sure.  Are they more likely to selectively expose themselves to like-minded media more than whatever the opposite of a tea party movement member might be, such as a hardcore liberal?
  • Political knowledge is always fun to explore here, and misinformation.  Are members of the movement more or less knowledgeable than the general public?  Do they hold some beliefs that are factually incorrect?  How does this "knowledge" influence their attitudes?
I'm sure there are a million ideas to study this, from content analysis of speeches made at these rallies to organizational approaches (run largely by the Republican Party, very quietly), to the rhetoric of the movement itself.  Fun fun fun time to be a political communication scholar.

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