Tea Partiers: The Most Oppressed Minority?

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 3:00 PM EST

So another pollster has attempted to address the question of just how racist the tea party movement really is. OK, that’s not exactly what the new Public Religion Research Institute survey set out to do, but that’s basically one of the most interesting take-aways. In a report published today on the role of religion in the 2010 elections, the institute released its findings from a 2010 post-election "American values survey" that asked, among other things, whether respondents believe that white people face significant discrimination. It’s sort of a loaded question, but still a less direct way of asking people about their views on race.

Tea party critics won’t be surprised to hear that 61 percent of people who identify with the movement said discrimination against whites "is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities." (White evangelicals also saw doors slamming in the faces of white people, with 57 percent agreeing that discrimination against people like themselves was equal to that against minorities.) That view was shared by only 28 percent of Democrats and about half of independents. Republicans were closer to the tea party on that question, with 56 percent agreeing that discrimination against whites is a big problem.

Just as tea partiers think claims of discrimination against minorities are overrated, they also believe by a 6 in 10 margin that the government has paid too much attention to them—and to women's problems, too. While most Americans, according to the survey, believe that discrimination is still a significant problem for women, more than 58 percent of tea partiers think that women no longer face discrimination in the US.

The data can be read several ways. On the one hand, tea partiers seem to have a rosy view of the state of American equality. They seem to believe that the country has achieved equal opportunity, at least for women and minorities. Because at the same time, it’s clear that they view themselves as the country’s most victimized demographic, a perspective that tends to drive a lot of their rhetoric. Tea partiers often see themselves as under siege— by the government, by immigrants and other foreigners, by popular culture, and probably by women, too, if the survey is andy indication. The survey produces some other interesting though perhaps also not surprising data points about the tea party. Among them:

Tea partiers are no fans of Islam; 66 percent of them said that Islam is at odds with American values. Three-quarters of them also believe that their God has granted the U.S. a special role in the world, a view that makes them much more inclined than other Americans to say that torture is justified in some cases.

PRRI dug in a bit to see what various voting blocs see as priorities for the new Congress. Those findings, too, show some significant differences between the tea party movement and establishment Republicans and Democrats. The tea party movement's obsession with the health care reform law shows up in their list of top legislative priorities. Forty-one percent said they believe that repealing "Obamacare" should be the top priority for Republicans in Congress, a higher percentage than even regular Republicans, 36 percent of whom think repealing health care reform is the top issue. (Sadly, PRRI didn't ask how many of them already had government-run health care.) Meanwhile, in a signal to "annoyer-in-chief" Rep. Darryl Issa, who has said he plans 280 investigative hearings next year, only 4 percent of tea partiers thought that investigating the Obama administration should be the Republicans' primary focus. Even tea partiers, it seems, see Republican crusading as more annoying than constructive.

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