Tea Party

Voicing Our Values—Talking About the Tea Party

This is an addendum to our book, Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Candidates. Our purpose is to help lawmakers, candidates and activists understand how to persuade undecided voters to support progressive policies. We encourage you to adapt the language to your own voice and personalize it with your own knowledge and experience.

For a PDF copy of Voicing Our Values—Talking About the Tea Party, click here.

There is general agreement among Democrats and Republicans, pollsters and pundits, that the federal government shutdown and debt crisis has damaged the Tea Party brand. The question is, does that change how progressives should talk about our ideological opponents?

Let’s first understand the polling. There are two kinds of questions asked about the political organizations: do you favor or oppose the group, and do you consider yourself a member.

Here’s the latest poll on whether Americans feel favorable or unfavorable toward the Tea Party, from the Pew Research Center:

Date

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

Can’t rate/refused

October 2013

30%

49%

6%

15%

June 2013

37%

45%

7%

11%

August 2011

36%

43%

5%

15%

February 2010

33%

25%

19%

23%

Only 30 percent are favorable toward the Tea Party, but only half are unfavorable and there’s not a tremendous change since August 2011. Labeling someone as a “Tea Party candidate” is a negative, but not as strong as we wish.

Here’s the latest poll asking “do you consider yourself a supporter of the Tea Party movement?” from NBC News/Wall Street Journal:

Date

Yes

No

Depends

Not sure

October 2013

20%

70%

2%

8%

July 2013

21%

67%

3%

9%

October 2012

24%

64%

3%

9%

January 2012

27%

66%

2%

5%

January 2011

27%

62%

3%

8%

November 2010

30%

59%

4%

7%

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                               

By this measure, the Tea Party declined by one-third over three years. The group does not represent a big percentage of all voters, but it remains a large and influential part of the Republican Party.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Confederate

Conservative 

 

Extreme

Right wing

Partisan, political and divisive 

          Confederate Conservative                                            Partisan, political and divisive

elinda Lake, one of the best progressive pollsters, tells us that we cannot call Tea Partiers “Confederates” or compare their actions to the Civil War, even when that’s historically accurate. Persuadable voters don’t understand the comparison, it seems dated, and it alienates our friends in the South.

At the same time, don’t call them “conservative.” In American politics, “conservative” is a very positive word. That’s because voters like stereotyped conservative principles—limited government, lower taxes, free markets, personal responsibility, family values.

Call them extreme.” Americans are increasingly aware that the Tea Party is far outside of the mainstream, that they are “divisive,” extremely “partisan,” and “political.” And when it fits, you can use the term “right wing.” Voters are somewhat unfavorable toward a right-wing candidate (although they are much more unfavorable toward a left-wing candidate).

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Fascist or Nazi 

 

Playing partisan politics

Putting politics above what’s best for America 

Why . . .

Again, while the Tea Party may deserve some historical comparisons, that kind of language turns off persuadable voters. The fact is, there’s an advantage to having the Tea Party around—they make it easier for progressives to argue that we represent the American political mainstream. And message-wise, that’s where we want to be.

For much more discussion of how to talk to voters about a wide variety of issues, see our book, Voicing Our Values: A Message Guide for Candidates, which is available at www.progressivemajorityaction.org.

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