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A “Subterranean Agenda”? Racial Attitudes, Presidential Evaluations, and Tea Party Membership


Recent research suggests that fiscally conservative policy preferences and disapproval of President Obama are significant predictors of Tea Party membership (Maxwell and Parent 2012). Unfortunately, however, we know very little about the reasons why Tea Party members so aggressively disapprove of President Obama. While Tea Party members adamantly deny that President Obama’s race plays any role in their motivations, their critics argue that racial attitudes are a primary reason why individuals choose to join the movement. In this article, using national survey data conducted by Knowledge Networks (n = 1649), we explore the possibility that three unique racial attitudes have been influential in the establishment of the Tea Party. Specifically, we investigate the role of symbolic racism, racial stereotypes, and ethnocentrism as predictors of self-identified Tea Party membership among whites.

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  1. The ethnocentrism measure developed by Kinder and Kam does include additional out-groups. However, since this sample only included respondents who identified as white, African American, or Latino, we limited our measure accordingly.

  2. We conducted a series of nested models omitting one racial scale at a time in order to verify that only ethnocentrism significantly improved the overall fit of the model. Likelihood ratio tests indicate that a slightly significant reduction in overall fit accompanied the omission of ethnocentrism (LR χ 2 = 1.79, p ≤ 0.1), but only in a one-tailed test of significance. Dropping the other racial scales did not significantly reduce the fit of the model.


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Correspondence to Angie Maxwell.

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Maxwell, A., Wayne Parent, T. A “Subterranean Agenda”? Racial Attitudes, Presidential Evaluations, and Tea Party Membership. Race Soc Probl 5, 226–237 (2013).

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  • Tea Party
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Symbolic racism
  • Racial stereotypes
  • Obama