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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tea Party Failure: Congress Productive, SD Voter Registration Stable

Supposedly the weird, multi-headed hydra we conveniently if inaccurately label the "Tea Party" aims to change American politics. The 9-12 Project, a subset of that "movement," claims to surround us.

I'm looking around, and I'm not seeing it. Whatever movement is afoot seems only a sideshow (some might say freak show) to the continuing strength of the two existing political parties.

Consider first this commentary from Ronald Brownstein in the National Journal. He finds that Democrats in Washington have pulled together more effectively than they did during the first two years of the Clinton Administration:

Today, Democrats face much the same electoral challenge as they did then: unyielding opposition from congressional Republicans and a growing grassroots conservative backlash. But after some wavering, Democrats this time have mostly responded by closing ranks, especially in the dramatic drive to complete health care reform. Democrats remain divided on immigration, climate change, and some other issues, but they have united enough to make this arguably the most productive legislative session for any Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson [Ronald Brownstein, "Dems' Governing Core Stays Intact," National Journal, 2010.04.03].

Tea Party kicks and spits, Dems get things done. Even where Dems have thrown conservatives a bone with votes dissenting from the President, their Tea Party allegiance isn't terribly deep. Consider the case of South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Our Blue Dog Democrat consistently hewed to the Tea party line on their signature issue, opposing health care reform. But a year of futile baying at the socialist moon was negated by one sudden liberal thunderclap: one liberal doctor challenged SHS, 3834 Democrats signed petitions, and SHS came scampering back to our side, promising not to vote to repeal the newly passed health care reform law just to get Kevin Weiland not to run against her in the primary.

Further evidence of the lack of any real Tea Party impact on politics comes from the latest voter registration numbers released Thursday by the South Dakota Secretary of State. If the Tea "Party" is really fed up with politics as usual, we might expect there to be a surge in citizens seeking alternative parties to carry their message to Washington and Pierre.

Figure 1: South Dakota Voter Registration, "Third" Parties
recent trend to April 1, 2010 (click chart to enlarge)

Since the manufacturing of the Tea Party in February 2009, parties other than the Dems and GOP have shown little growth. Add Constitution, Libertarian, and "Other," and since Feb 2009, South Dakota has seen a net increase of 14 official members in third parties, up 0.71%. A review of the candidates who have filed for South Dakota offices so far reveals only three Constitution Party candidates mustering the courage and signatures to run for statewide office. Not exactly a seismic shift in the political landscape.

Now compare those third party "gains" with the overall picture:

Figure 2: South Dakota Voter Registration, All Parties
recent trend to April 1, 2010
(click chart to enlarge)

See that flat blue line down by zero? That's where those third parties lie relative to registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in South Dakota. All three main registrations underwent the expected decline last fall as the Secretary of State struck inactive voters from the rolls. Since that culling, Independents have seen a stronger increase than Republicans by percentage, but there are still more new Republicans since November (1140) than Independents (758).

Now the conservatives among us may be able to cheer their side is gainin while Dems are losing—and indeed, Dems, since November, we've lost another 770 registered voters. But if I were a Tea Party activist who claims my movement isn't just an adjkunct of the Republican Party, I wouldn't be cheering too loudly that my movement has increased registration in that dominant political party.

These facts point to one simple conclusion: the Tea Bags aren't changing anything, at least not the way they want to claim. The Democrats in Congress are taking care of business. South Dakota Democrats are starting to tighten the leash on their Blue Dog Congresswoman (oooo... sounds like a show the RNC would pay money for). No third party is making any serious move to gain members or offer alternatives.

A year in, and on health care and in South Dakota, the Tea party has given us nothing but shouting.

Update 2001.04.04 07:48 CDT: Cerberus Global Investments chairman Dan Quayle disagrees with me, fretting that the Tea Party is so successful it may go Perot, launch an actual third party, and destroy the GOP's chances of making gains in November. Quayle also recommends taking political cues from Sarah Palin.


  1. "These facts point to one simple conclusion: the Tea Bags aren't changing anything, at least not the way they want to claim."

    I guess we'll find out the truth in November 2010 and then again in November 2012.

    I don't know how much effect the Tea Bags actually have, but anyone who ignores them or ridicules them might as well ignore or ridicule a tornado watch.

  2. Interesting comparison to weather alerts, Stan. I do sometimes ridicule tornado watches, given the media's desire to hype a small possibility of a storm into a full-scale alert that demands we all keep our eyes glued to our sets.

    There is certainly a possibility that the conditions brewing could whip up into a storm that does real damage. But the indicators above aren't registering much beyond a few strong gusts yet.

  3. There is no doubt that the "tea party" is no party at at all, but rather a hard right faction of the Republican party. The Republicans are doing a good job of reining them in, so that they don't "go Perot" on them, which would be disastrous for the GOP.
    IMHO the people of SD are turned off by the rudeness exhibited on the national scale by the "tea party". After all a loudmouth is a loudmouth no matter which side of the aisle they sit.You can put the " tea party" in the same chapter with Moveon.org in my book.

  4. Perhaps as significant as registration numbers (if not more) is the overall aggregate disposition of the voters in total.

    South Dakota has a "middle" that is farther to the right in overall political philosophy than states like California or Massachusetts, for example.

    The squeaky wheels move that needle. And the "big squawkers" of late have been shouting from the right, with fairly significant affect.

    In Stephanie's case, she has been moved so far to the right of center, many Democrats hardly recognized her any more.

    One would like to think that, at a minimum, the Weiland uprising moved her back towards center a notch or two, along with some of her other SD Blue Dog Dems. We'll see.

    On the flip side, Tea Partiers are having a much more significant impact on the Republican candidates to a point where they are afraid to say anything that might offend the likes of Limbaugh and Beck. Repubs who do try to play it down the middle are immediately branded as "RINOS." And that, I believe is the key to a Progressive revolution.

    Like the old saying goes... give them enough rope.

    Meanwhile, Cory, the moral to the story is "keep squeakin'". So people who get lost in the hide and seek game can find their way back home.

  5. I'm still a registered republican and have no interest in a third party. Anyone getting involved politically in the Tea Party is likely to run within their party, rather than uselessly running in a third party and helping the candidate furthest from their ideals win. Your point is not the sharpest one you've ever made.

    Bill F: bring on your progressive revolution, I'd love to help crush it into dust.

  6. So Roger agrees with what I've known from the beginning: the Tea Party stands for Republican party politics as usual. The status quo Republican special interests masquerading as grass-roots "revolution." Bring your GOP-approved "crusher" to the polls, Roger. We'll have fun.

  7. Cory, after having given some more thought to this business, I'd say the Tea Party constitutes a result or effect (one might say a symptom) of voter trends, rather than a cause of anything besides a lot of noise.

    I agree with your weather assessment to some extent. Every bloody day in the summer around here, we get those horrible bleepings and tweetings on television and radio, because a storm with nickel-sized hail has sprouted. I can't even watch a little Romulan/Vulcan standoff without getting interrupted ...

    Heck, after Hurricane Andrew, I'm not impressed by the weather very often anymore. I'm not too impressed by the Tea Baggers either, although they make some good points. There exists no purpose, however, in blowing spitballs at the messenger, be she a Tea Bagger or a meteorologist.

  8. Cory,
    I don't see how you can get it so wrong. That's not what Roger said at all. Besides, it's so quaint that you want to pit "Republican Special Interests" against (presumably yours) "Democrat Special Interests". How about you take a look at some American Interests and give up your Progressive Revolution. If it weren't for your Progressive revolution maybe all of these "annoying and ineffectual" Tea Baggers would just go back to work and leave you alone. That would at least give you one less thing to whine about.
    -- Scott Burton

  9. Scott, it's exactly what Roger said. The Tea Bags are a front for Republicans, an amplification of that established party's strategy. They represent no change in the status quo of the balance of power between two entrenched parties. Neither of you offer any evidence countering my original claims: that Dems are having a remarkably productive Congressional session, that third-party registrations haven't significantly budged, and that the dominance of the two parties remains unchanged, all of which are evidence that the Tea "Party" isn't making much difference.

  10. Roger, the Revolutionary War was the beginning of the Progressive Revolution and it has been raging every since. The Tea Party people are today's modern Tories, clinging to the failed belief systems of the past.

    So when you say "bring it on" I have only to answer, "It's been on, Roger. Where you been?"

  11. From Bill we get more historical revisionism and Soviet-style propaganda: brazenly claim the inverse of reality.

    The "progressive" revolution is a polite euphemism for "Marxist Revolution", and the Marxist revolution is nothing more than the same old repackaged bilge seen since the dawn of government which says rule by one or a few over the ignorant masses is preferable to freedom and self-reliance.

    In the modern world of today, "progressivism" (which should more accurately be called "regressivism") seeks to re-enslave the American people to the yolk of big government they threw off 234 years ago.

    Sorry, while you might actually believe your own rot, we're not buying that propaganda here in real America.

  12. "here in real America"—yup, that's where Bill and I live, too. And in the evidence above that Ellis's boilerplate patriot-elitist rhetoric ignores, the Tea Party has not made any real difference in the dominance of the two main parties. The Dems are getting more done in Congress, and the GOP and Dems continue to dominate voter registration in the state, with no sign of a credible alternative.

  13. Mr. Ellis rolls in the Grenade of the Day.

    Here's a picture of Bob's utopia:

  14. 40% of TeaParty members are Democrats and Independents...

    "Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!" Get some "Shout" folks, it may help.


    Stace Nelson

  15. Sorry, Cory, but you guys live in some liberal fantasyland--one that is occasionally irritated by intrusions by reality.

    Intrusions like the one you'd rather pretend didn't exist: Tea Party patriots intend to clean up the parties that already exist, not create a new one.

    Intrusions like the hundreds of thousands of Tea Party patriots who came out in thousands of communities across America last year to denounce big government socialism.

    Intrusions like the dozens of town hall meetings last summer where fed-up Americans denounced Washington socialists for what they are.

    Intrusions like the one that kept your glorious socialist health care scheme at bay, even though conservative and Republicans alike were completely out of any meaningful power in Washington.

    Intrusions like the one that still has your cap and trade global warming tax stalled.

    Intrusions like the one that put a Republican into a Democrat Senate seat formerly engraved with the name "Kennedy."

    Nope, if you squeeze your eyes shut and jam your fingers into your ears...no difference at all.

    Dream on, Mr. Marx. While you're off going lalalalalalalalalalala to keep the real world at bay, Americans will be spending the next year getting this country back on track and operating within constitutional authority.

  16. Fun poll, Stace. Problems:

    1. Serious overtagging: the results find that just 13% of Tea Bags self-identify as "Democrats." Gallup finds 8%. No word on how many of those "Dems" would self-identify as Blue Dogs... or Dixiecrats.

    2. Also no breakdown on how many of those Dems are actual leaders in the movement. Tea is still Dick Armey astroturf brew.

    3. Winston Group: Republican polling outfit. Hard Heritage Foundation Republican.

    4. (Same source) Tea Party remains a non-mainstream, hard-right movement.

  17. Mr Ellis . Methinks the obstruction that you so eloquently accord to the tea party faction , has infinitely more to do with big money lobbyists, than it does to a small percentage of the population , shouting and waving banners.

  18. It's certinly more comfortable for liberals to think that, isn't it, Barry? :-)

  19. The Truth shall set you free. Mr. Ellis

  20. Right, Barry, but it will also piss him off first.

  21. The truth is always liberating and ultimately satisfying.

    You should try it sometime. :-)

  22. Cory, if your last comment holds true, the Dems are in for a lot of trouble in the next two to four years.

    If even eight percent of Dems identify themselves as Tea Baggers, that means they're in a mainstream, hard-right movement.

    Didn't Barack Obama win with 53 percent of the popular vote? Were all of those Dem Tea Baggers in his camp before the 2008 election? The Tea Party didn't even exist as such before the 2008 election, did it?

    Would it be too far-fetched to suppose that a fair number of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 regret having done so now?

    We can twist statistics and graphs and polls all we want, but in the end, the only thing that matters will be the election results. I suspect that political events in the next two to four years will hold some big surprises for us all.

  23. Oops, I meant eight percent of Tea Baggers identify as Democrats! Big difference there, seeing as how small the Tea Party movement is.

    I did read on CNN that four percent of Dems identify as Tea Baggers. That's still a pretty big percentage, seeing as that Barack Obama did not win by anything like a landslide.

  24. Mr. Gibilisco. There is a high probability that a fair percentage of the dems in this poll are not dems at all. Rather they are tea baggers who want to make their movement look more balanced. You see this in the blogs all the time. The writer will make some outrageously right wing comment and then write that they were a Democrat that voted for McCain. Remember in 2008 when Rush was having his dittoheads change parties so that they could mess with the democrat primary's. It can also be skewed by people who just haven't paid much attention. How could any Democrat, that pays attention, belong to a hard right wing group?

  25. Barry:

    Good point. Thank you for reminding me that I ought to remain skeptical of all polls, except (I hope) actual election results!


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