Who are the members of the Tea Party? How does their class inform their opinions?
Heavens. In starting this response, I will open with a couple of disclaimers. I have used a wikipedia article as a citation for this topic. It's such a new topic that I can justify using wikipedia as a source for it reflects the constant activity that has emerged with the Tea Party over the last year and a half. I realize that we don't really embrace wikipedia as a source, but in this context, it might be very effective. The second point I will make is that this is a very politically and emotionally charged topic. I stress that you have to make sure, very sure, that what you are receiving in terms of answers to this question are generated by a sense of understanding about the topic and not the political implications that are present in it. The Tea Party has aroused such intense emotions on both sides of the issue that you want to make sure you try to get as a full of a view as possible on it. If this question gets moved to a "Discussions" forum, I strongly advise you to really scrutinize answers because this one will get nearly everything under the sun for a response.
The Tea Party is a group of individuals who stand opposed to the current pattern of government intervention into economic affairs. The group primarily arose because of the fear of a widened role of government in policy legislation and overall control. With the economic chaos of 2008, the incoming administration sought to provide government assistance to organizations, businesses, and individuals who were directly impacted in powerful ways by the economic conditions. These "bailouts" ended up increasing the role of government in political and social affairs. The name of the party arose from the Patriot rebels during the days leading to the American Revolution, who staged the Boston Tea Party in response to the encroachment of colonial economic and political rights at the hands of the British government. The Tea Party began as an opposition to the Obama Administration's growing influence in bailouts, government takeover of companies and banking institutions. The idea of recalling back to the nation's roots helped to foster the party, which became a movement across the nation. The composition of the party, like any party, is going to have representation from many groups. One thing that can be said is that those who began in the Tea Party were individuals who felt disaffected with the administration's policies and were conservative in terms of their perception of government, seeking to strike a Classical Liberal position of "less government is good government." The growth of the Party has helped to pull a decidedly populist view, given the fact that many have argued that the bailout policies helped only the wealthy and not those who were directly impacted by the economic crisis. The group has also branched out into most policy initiatives, arguing that the current administration is permitting government to move too far into the lives of its citizens. The debate on health care would be one such example of this. Outside of this, I am sure I missed some facts about the Tea Party, only due to the fact that space is limited. It is a very charged issue right now, especially with midterm elections coming up very soon. Good luck on what will come.
The Tea Party is a very loosely organized political and social movement at the time. They have no clear boundaries in terms of exactly what their platform is because they are not organized or led on a national level, so defining them in a forum such as this becomes exceedingly difficult. I'm speaking in generalities here, so take these with a grain of salt, and realize that they do not quantify or qualify the movement as a whole.
1) Tea Party members support fiscal responsibility - that is, less spending, balanced budgets
2) They are, in general, overwhelmingly Republicans and disaffected Republicans. They are also overwhelmingly white.
3) The vast majority, I would bet, did not vote for nor currently support President Obama or his policies
4) They claim to be Constitutional purists, wanting the government to act only according to its specific original mandate.
You'll find more Tea Party support in traditionally red, or Republican areas of the country - specifically, the Bible Belt of the Southern states, the farming Midwest, Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Eastern California, Texas and Utah. There are pockets elsewhere but this is their base.
Fox News organization has incubated the Tea Party movement, and helped them to secure funding through private and political interest groups. They get consistent news coverage, regardless of the size of their events, and the anti-Obama meme often originates for them from that same news source.
In the NYT article cited above, and another Gallup poll conducted about the same time, most tea partiers fell into the working or middle class of America, and had some college education. They feel that whites and blacks are treated equally in our society, and that the current administration's policies treat both equally also. Their main focus is on the economy, and getting it back into control through the reduction of the size of government. Government expansion is the real concern, as they are worried it is tied to increased taxes and imposition on individual choices.
I encourage you to take anything that people say about this topic with very careful research and study. If they make claims about the Tea Party (or any political party), make sure those claims are backed in actual research and facts, not just hasty conclusions or generalizations prompted by political bias. Even polls and surveys can be skewed to get "results" that support the agenda that the source is trying to push. Any sites that you find that have polls, I encourage you to find the poll itself, and skip the commentary that often comes with them. That way, you have the data without the political spin. Analyze the questions the pollsters asked, and what demographics were asked the questions; all of this will help you to draw informed conclusions about the polls presented. Enotes also has some great information posted at the link below. Good luck!
If you are able to follow the link below, you should use it. It is a NY Times article from April of this year.
The main demographic point that the article makes is that the Tea Party is not (as many would expect) a bunch of lower-class people who are angry about how they are being left behind by the global economy. It claims that
Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The general point that it is trying to make is that this group feels that it is made up of people who can and have made it on their own without government support. Their opinions (their hatred of government expenditures, for example) are informed by the idea that they have not needed help and the idea that others should not need help either.
Perhaps a slightly different take on the question:
The Tea Party is a group of people, and sadly because of our desire to label everything so that we can put it in a certain category, they've been linked together by this name.
In reality, there are huge variations within the group in how people think about things. Some are libertarian, some align themselves with the republican party, some of them are simply reactionary and want to be a part of something that is protesting what they see as the status quo.
The group is currently trying to find its own niche and lots of people and groups are trying to co-opt it to further their own agendas including the republicans in congress who just formed the "tea-party caucus."
Every time I see the tea-party members interviewed on TV or radio, I am left with the fairly firm opinion that this is the section of society commonly known as 'the idiots'.
I know we're not supposed to say it, I know that one of the biggest taboos in our society is referring to a whole group as 'just a bunch of stupids'. But, sorry, the grass-roots Tea-Party movement is an unfocused herd of angry and confused people who don't understand very much. They can't even tell the difference between a) Socialism b) Fascism and c) Obama's administration and regularly claim all these things are the same.