There have been several asides in these pages regarding the Tea Party movement, and I have tried to clarify what I think the Tea Party is all about and who they are. My ruminations have been culled from memory, and I decided to research the movement so that I could answer questions more confidently. What ensued is a 12-page distillation of multiple sources on the origins, philosophy and makeup of the modern Tea Party movement. I will attempt to faithfully summarize those findings here.
Like most spontaneously arising movements, there are several claimants to being the originator/inspiration of the Tea Party movement. Success has many fathers. The Tea Parties were a series of protests across America beginning in early 2009, and were part of a nascent, larger anti-tax political movement called the Tea Party movement, which focuses on smaller government, fiscal responsibility, individual freedoms and upholding the Constitution. Commentators promoted Tax Day events on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, while FOX News regularly featured televised programming leading into and promoting various protest activities.
The theme of the iconic Boston Tea Party has long been used by anti-tax protesters with libertarian and conservative viewpoints. It was part of Tax Day protests held throughout the 1990s and earlier. The libertarian theme of the “tea party” protest was previously used by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and his supporters as a fundraising event during the primaries of the 2008 presidential campaign to emphasize Paul’s fiscal conservatism, which they later claimed laid the groundwork for the modern-day Tea Party movement. As home mortgage foreclosures increased, and details of the 2009 stimulus bill became known, organized protests began to emerge. The character of the Tea Parties has since diverged significantly from Paul’s anti-war and libertarian focus, and Representative Paul has stated that “neocons” who do not accept his policies have become more prevalent in the protests. The Tea Party movement, as it stands today, is conservative rather than libertarian; and conservative rather than Republican.
On January 19 2009, Graham Makohoniuk, a part-time trader and a member of Ticker Forum, posted a casual invitation on the market-ticker.org forums to “Mail a tea bag to congress and to senate”. The idea quickly caught on with others on the forum, some of whom reported being attracted to the inexpensive, easy way to reach “everyone that voted for the bailout.” Forum moderator, Stephanie Jasky helped organize the group and worked to “get it to go viral.” The group had previously held DC protests in 2008. On January 19 2009, Jasky had posted a formal invitation “to a commemorative tea party.” She suggested they all send tea bags on the same day (February 1 2009) in a coordinated effort. By February 1, the idea had spread among conservative and libertarian-oriented blogs, forums, websites and through a viral eMail campaign. Over 5,000 tea bags were received by the Congressional mail service.
The dominant theme seen at some of the earliest anti-stimulus protests was “pork” rather than tea. The term “porkulus” was coined by radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh on his January 27 2009 broadcast, in reference to both the 2009 “stimulus” bill, which was just introduced to the House of Representatives the day before, as well as to pork barrel spending and earmarks. This proved very popular with conservative politicians and commentators, who began to unify in opposition against stimulus spending after the 2008 General Election.
Though it was not the first protest of the Obama administration or of the stimulus, New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, reports that some within the Tea Party credit Seattle blogger and conservative activist Keli Carender with organizing the first Tea Party on February 16 2009. Ms Carendar organized what she called A “Porkulus Protest” on President’s Day, before, as she says, “Rick Santelli’s rant!”, referring to the CNBC reporter who called for protests after the announcement of the AIG executive bonuses in the face of increasing home mortgage foreclosures. Ms Carender contacted conservative author and FOX News contributor, Michelle Malkin in order to gain her support and publicize her event. Ms Malkin promoted the protest in several posts on her blog, saying that “There should be one of these in every town in America,” and that she would be supplying the crowd with a meal of pulled pork. The protest was held in Seattle on Presidents Day, February 16, the day before President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. Malkin encouraged her readers to stage similar events in Denver on February 17 where President Obama planned to sign the stimulus bill into law.
On February 19 2009, in a broadcast from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CNBC Business News Network editor Rick Santelli loudly criticized the government plan to refinance mortgages, which had just been announced the day before, as “promoting bad behavior” by “subsidizing losers’ mortgages” and raised the possibility of putting together a “Chicago Tea Party in July”. A number of the traders and brokers around him cheered on his proposal, to the apparent amusement of the hosts in the studio. It was called “the rant heard round the world”. According to The New Yorker writer Ben McGrath and New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, this is where the movement was first inspired to coalesce under the collective banner of “Tea Party.” By the next day, guests on FOX News had already begun to mention this new “Tea Party.”
The rest, as they say, is history. My contention that the movement got its momentum from the August town hall meetings is wrong – the movement was gaining steam by the time the town halls got going, and no doubt energized some of the participants in those meetings. What exploded in the wake of the disastrous town halls was media coverage of the Tea Party movement – mostly dismissive and derisive.
Much has been written, here and elsewhere, about just who these “Tea Partiers” are. Well, CBS News and the New York Times conducted a poll on this very subject, and the results are enlightening. This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,580 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 5-12 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The sampling error is ±3 percentage points. An oversample of people who describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement were interviewed, for a total of 881 interviews. The results were then weighted in proportion to the adult population. The margin of error for the sample of Tea Party supporters is ±3 points. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
18% of Americans (that’s 40,418,730 people) identify as Tea Party supporters. Over three in four Tea Party supporters (78%) have never attended a rally or donated to a group; most have also not visited a Tea Party website. For the purposes of the poll, those who have attended a rally or donated to a group have been deemed Tea Party “activists.” 4% of Americans fall into this category (8,981,940 people). Unusually populated by small business owners, they tend to skew older: three in four are 45 years old or older, including 29% who are 65 plus. They are also more likely to be men (59%) than women (41%). More than one in three (36%) hails from the South, far more than any other region. 25% come from the West, 22% from the Midwest, and 18% from the Northeast. They tend to be better educated than most Americans: 37% are college graduates, compared to 25% of Americans overall. They also have a higher-than-average household income, with 56% making more than $50,000 per year. The vast majority of them – 89% – are white. Just 1% is black.
Based on recent votes, Tea Partiers identify themselves as: Usually Republican 48%; Equally Republican and Democrat (i.e., Independent) 25%; Always Republican 18%; Usually/Always Democrat 5%; Other/Don’t Know 4%. Given that these protests are being levied against what is perceived as a leftist agenda, the only surprise is the number of Democrats involved. Nearly three in four describe themselves as conservative, and 39% call themselves very conservative. Forty percent say the US needs a third party, while 52% say it does not.
Fifty-three percent of Tea Party supporters describe themselves as “angry” about the way things are going in Washington, compared to 19% of Americans overall who say they are angry. Asked what they are most angry about, the top four answers among Tea Party supporters who identify as angry were the healthcare reform bill (16%), the government not representing the people (14%), government spending (11%) and unemployment and the economy (8%).
Ten percent more Tea Partiers (30% to 20%) believe Mr Obama was born in another country, despite ample evidence to the contrary, than Americans overall. These so-called “birthers”, while more prevalent in Tea Parties, are by no means confined there. Seventy-three percent say Blacks and Whites have equal opportunity, compared to 60% of Americans overall.
Asked about the main goals of the Tea Party, respondents broke down this way: Reduce Role of Federal Government 45%; All of these categories 18%; Creating Jobs 9%; Electing Own Candidates 7%; Other 7%; Lowering Taxes 6%; Cutting Budget 6%.
Sorry this consumed so much space, but I thought the results might be of interest. There are, of course, many more poll results in my 12-page paper, and many more still in the final report of the CBS/New York Times poll, both of which I have.
Notice that this poll was generated by a statistically derived method of obtaining random phone numbers, not a statistically stable sample of likely (or even registered) voters. There is no way to weight this kind of sample to more accurately reflect the views of probable November voters, though these results (for non-Tea Party supporters) are probably close enough for these purposes.
 Michael Calderone, Fox teas up a tempest, in Politico, April 15 2009.
 Boston Tea Party is protest template, UPI, April 20 2008, available at:
 Ron Paul’s tea party for dollars – 2008 Presidential Campaign Blog – Political Intelligence, in Boston Globe; Statement on Ron Paul and “Tax Day Tea Parties”, Businesswire.com. April 15 2009; Ron Paul raises millions in today’s Boston Tea Party event, in The Boston Globe, December 16 2007; Associated Press, Paul supporters hold Tea Party re-enactment in Boston, in Boston Herald, December 17 2007.
 Jeannine Aversa, Washington offers no relief for savers, Associated Press, July 20 2009.
 Stephen C Webster, Ron Paul: “Neocon influence” is infiltrating tea parties, in The Raw Story, February 9 2010.
 Mail a Tea Bag to Congress & to Senate!, on MarketTicker Forums, January 19 2009.
 Single Post Display – MarketTicker Forums, Tickerforum.org, January 28 2009.
 Founder and director, FedUpUSA – a fiscally conservative, non-partisan activist group whose members describe themselves as “a group of investors” who sprung out of the market-ticker.org forums. See FedUpUSA, About Us, FedUpUSA, April 11 2008, available at::
 Pre-Bailout – History, Fedupusa.org.
 Tom Kuntz, Idea of the Day: “Porkulus”, in The New York Times, February 8 2009.
 Ronald D Utt, Is Pork Barrel Spending Ready to Explode? The Anatomy of an Earmark, The Heritage Foundation, November 10 2004, available at:
 Michelle Malkin, “Yes, we care!” Porkulus protesters holler back Updated, on Michelle Malkin, February 17 2009, available at:
"Yes, we care!" Porkulus protesters holler back Updated
 Ben McGrath, The Movement – The Rise of Tea Party Activism, in The New Yorker, February 1 2010, available at:
 Rick Santelli: I Want to Set the Record Straight, CNBC, March 2 2009; Rick Santelli goes off, in Chicago Tribune, February 23 2009, available at:
 Ben McGrath, “Just Ordinary Americans”: Don’t Underestimate the Tea Party Movement, in New Yorker, February 3 2010.
 Kate Zernike, Unlikely Activist Who Got to the Tea Party Early, February 27 2010, available at:
 CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto, Tea Party Supporters: Who They Are and What They Believe, CBS News/New York Times, April 5-12 2010.
 18% of 224,548,500 Americans 18-years-old and over = 40,418,730 self-identified Tea Party supporters.
 I am assuming that a self-identified Tea Party supporter is more likely to vote than someone who answers a randomly dialed phone.