A Harvard study that got some buzz earlier this month deserves some (delayed) mention. Assembled by political scientist Theda Skocpol and two graduate students, Vanessa Williamson and John Coggin, the work, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism” essentially posits that it is not opposition to government spending in general or even welfare programs that drives Tea Party sentiment, but rather anger and frustration with the supposedly undeserving, foreign mooch scarfing up government programs:
Untethered from recent GOP baggage and policy specifics, the Tea Party has energized disgruntled white middle-class conservatives and achieved widespread attention, despite stagnant or declining favorability ratings among the general public. As participant observation and interviews with Massachusetts activists reveal, Tea Partiers are not monolithically hostile toward government; they distinguish between programs perceived as going to hard-working contributors to U.S. society like themselves and “handouts” perceived as going to unworthy or freeloading people. Whether Tea Party activism persists or subsides in 2011 and beyond, it has sapped Democratic momentum, revitalized Republican conservatism, and pulled the national Republican Party toward the far right.
Democrats should use this knowledge to drive a wedge between the national conservative movement — dedicated to privatizing popular social programs — and a Tea Party grassroots that wants its benefits.