Watching the Teabaggers get all hot and bothered this past year, listening to some familiar-sounding singing in the shower about taking Washington back, I thought maybe we could trace a cultural or historical connection between 1992's Perot voters and the folks bringing tricorner hats back into fashion today.
The Washington Post's Dan Balz analyzes possible connections between today's Teabaggers and the Ross Perot electorate of 1992. Are their connections? Balz finds the similarities balanced by important differences.
- Teabaggers are mostly white (87%, by WaPo's survey), but less so than Perotistas (94%). (Of course, Dems are mostly white, too—65%.)
- Teabaggers include more men than women, like Perot voters.
- The two groups have identical educational backgrounds: one third with college degrees, two thirds without.
- Teabaggers are older, with a majority over 45. 63% of Perot people were under 45. (Hmm... maybe they are the same voters, just 18 years older now!)
- Teabaggers are richer than the folks who followed the Texas billionaire. Perot's voters matched the economic class distribution of the general population, while the Tea Party draws more from the wealthy folks.
- The Teabaggers are undeniably a conservative movement; Perot voters did not clearly fit a party or ideological profile:
If anything, [the Tea Party] is simply an adjunct of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, even if many of its supporters say they hold no particular allegiance for the GOP and are critical of party leadership....
Despite the same strong anti-government sentiment and focus on the federal budget deficit as the tea party activists of today, the Perot voters were far less conservative.
In 1992, 53 percent of those who backed Perot for president described themselves as moderate, with 27 percent calling themselves conservative and 20 percent liberal, according to the exit polls. Among tea party activists, the Post poll and the CBS-New York Times poll found that nearly three-quarters called themselves conservative. David Winston, a Republican pollster, pegged the group's makeup as 65 percent conservative, 26 percent moderate [Dan Balz, "Don't Be Too Quick to Mistake Tea Party for Perot Movement," Washington Post, 2010.04.18].
Of course, my friend Joseph Thompson tells me that we get more conservative as we get older (so far, I'm headed the opposite direction, but I'm just one data point). Maybe that's what happened to the Perot voters. That, and they got worse at spelling. (But haven't we all, thanks to spellcheck?)
The big difference, says Balz, is that the Perot movement was a challenge to both parties. That's part of why I got excited about Perot in 1992. He really was the underdog, someone with the potential (however faint and fleeting) to start a third party. Practically speaking, the Perot movement was a genuine alternative, a genuine challenge to both parties. Dems and the GOP both had a reasonable shot at competing for Perot votes.
The folks in tricorner hats aren't an alternative; they're an extension of the two-party system. They like to say they're about throwing all the bums out in Washington, but show me one Republican Congressman they plan to replace with a non-Republican. The Teabaggers are all about beating Obama, beating Dems, and establishing a Grover Norquist hammerlock on the Republican Party. They're just slightly different packaging for what Republicans have been selling since 1994.
Update 2010.04.22 07:24 CDT: Soldier of wisdom Thompson comes this close to meeting my challenge: he points out that the astroturfy Tea Party Express has endorsed incumbent Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick from Idaho. Minnick is a Bluer Dog than Herseth Sandlin, with a vote against the stimulus package along with opposition to cap and trade and health reform.