Partisan Polarization and the Rise of the Tea Party Movement

27 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 18 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


At the grass roots level, the emergence of the Tea Party movement can best be understood as an outgrowth of the increased conservatism of the Republican electoral base, and especially the more politically engaged segment of that base, since the 1970s. I present evidence from American National Election Study surveys showing that Republican identifiers have been trending in a conservative direction for several decades and that this trend has been most evident among the most active partisans. I then present evidence from the October, 2010 wave of the American National Election Study Evaluations of Government and Society Survey about the social characteristics and political beliefs of Tea Party supporters. The overwhelming majority of Tea Party supporters were Republicans and supporters were much more conservative than other Republicans. While conservatism is by far the strongest predictor of support for the Tea Party movement, racial hostility also has a significant impact on support. Along with their greater conservatism, Tea Party supporters were much more politically active than other Republicans. These results suggest that the Tea Party movement has the potential to strongly influence the 2012 Republican congressional and presidential primaries, putting considerable pressure on Republican candidates to embrace issue positions well to the right of the median general election voter.

Keywords: Tea Party, Republican Party, 2012 election, polarization

Suggested Citation

Abramowitz, Alan, Partisan Polarization and the Rise of the Tea Party Movement (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Alan Abramowitz (Contact Author)

Emory University ( email )

201 Dowman Drive
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-0108 (Phone)

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