Yesterday, Gallop published a compilation of data from several recent USA Today/Gallop polls concerning the Tea Party movement, which can be found here. It’s a rather fascinating look at what the different sections of our political spectrum consider to be “extremely serious threats” to the future of the United States. There is also some rather interesting data on the role of government in both the economy and promoting morality. Perhaps the most electorally significant, if least surprising, numbers are found in the second table showing that self-described Tea Party supporters and self-described Republicans are effectively indistinguishable.
The first thing that struck me is a seeming contradiction in priorities. When asked about the federal government debt, 61% of Tea Party supporters, 44% of Neutrals, and 29% of Tea Party opponents said that it was an “extremely serious threat” to the future wellbeing of the US. However, when asked about healthcare costs, the respective numbers are 41%, 37%, and 33%. What strikes me as strange is the fact that, economic downturn aside, the largest force driving up the deficit is healthcare costs (nondiscretionary spending on Medicare especially). So, to me at least, it seems that if you are concerned about the deficit, you should be concerned about healthcare costs. (This is completely putting aside the obscene number of personal bankruptcies caused by medical costs).
I was rather surprised by the unemployment category: the numbers for each group are all effectively the same. What is significant though is the fact that among Tea Party opponents, unemployment received the second higher percentage of votes for an extremely serious threat (behind healthcare costs by 1%). In contrast, among Tea Party supporters, it is significantly less than the top three ranked concerns. This seems to indicate that, overall, Tea Party supporters are much more concerned about the future of the US than Tea Party opponents, with the Neutrals falling clearly in the middle. It would be easy for the respective groups to write their opponents off as naïve. However, I think this speaks more to the fundamentally different ways of thinking that are present on both ends of the political spectrum. (This is a rather fascinating area of research in neurobiology and psychology).
I was very upset with the numbers for “the environment, including global warming.” Only 13% of Tea Party supporters, 27% of Neutrals, and a mere 30% of Tea Party opponents thought climate change was an “extremely serious threat” to the US. In reality, the effects of climate change will be the greatest threats faced by all nations in this century, baring nuclear war or an asteroid impact. Rising temperatures means increased incidence of disease, as well as the spread of insects that carry disease. This is already occurring; many African cities that were built above the mosquito line are now infested with malaria. A warmer climate means an age of global pandemics. Incidentally, conservative estimates for the extinction rate for this century are about 50%, meaning that many of the potential sources to replace our failing antibiotics will go extinct before they are even discovered. At the same time, populations are rising and will certainly top 9 billion. Every continent is experiencing increasing fresh water shortages. Not only are both the United States’ and China’s aquifers are being depleted much faster than they can be restored, but the mountain glaciers that feed so many of our rivers are almost all gone. Increased population also means the need for more food; as it is, 2 billion people go hungry. However, the amount of land suitable for growing crops is measurably decreasing. Parts of the globe are experiencing unprecedented droughts while others are experiencing unprecedented flooding and everyone is experiencing much more violent storms. Wars are often caused by environmental pressures and a lack of resources. What happens when billions of people run out of food and water while millions die every few years in global pandemics that we cannot cure? Perhaps the percentage for this category should be closer to 100%.
A last comment on the main set of data: only 16% of Tea Party supporters think that “the size and power of large corporations” is a serious threat to the US. Adam Smith must be rolling over in his grave (or would be had he been an American, rather than a British subject during the American Revolutionary War).
There is another contradiction present in the second set of data. 80% of Tea Party supporters think that, when it comes to the government’s role in the economy, the government is “doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses.” However, 57% of Tea Party supporters think that “government should promote traditional values.” The exact opposite is true of Tea Party opponents: the number that think that “government should be doing more to solve country’s [economic] problems” is 64%, while 60% say that “government should not favor any set of values.” I’m not implying that either or both groups are hypocritical; this just seems to highlight the different ways of thinking among each group.
However, I do take issue with both of these Tea Party positions. When the history of our time is written, it will be remembered as the second great collapse of the unregulated free market. And it is no wonder that classical economics broke down; we ignored the part of The Wealth of Nations about not allowing monopolies. I also take issue with the government promoting “traditional values.” For one, this strikes me as government overreach and an abridgement of personal freedoms. But more importantly, “promoting traditional values” is, in common usage, code for “government actions that would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” Again, government overreach and the violation of personal freedoms. I find this particularly strange, considering the fact that the Tea Party was originally formed by the libertarian Ron Paul’s supporters. Perhaps the news should spend less time talking about the Tea Party “hijacking” the Republican Party and more time discussing how the Tea Party has been hijacked from its original founders.