“Early on, tea partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes,” write political scientists David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam. “Actually, tea party supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the tea party was born. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of tea party support today.”
The tea party cohort is overwhelmingly white, male and older — on that, the stereotype is on the mark — but it “had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president,” Campbell and Putnam report.
Or, as the CBS/Times poll found when tea partiers were asked what specifically they didn’t like about Obama, “the top answer was that they just don’t like him.”
From the standpoint of future politics and the 2012 presidential race, the most significant finding from the studies may involve the geographical distribution of the tea party loyalists. If the CBS/Times study has it right, the tea party participation is principally a Southern phenomenon. More than a third “hail from the South, far more than any other region,” it found, and that has important implications for the GOP next year and perhaps beyond.