Via the Monkey Cage, a study which used an interesting survey technique to assess just how wingnutty the teabaggers really are. They did a survey focusing on issues involving race and politics, especially in states where Tea Party candidates did well last November, and along the way managed to tease out some important differences between various branches of conservatism.
For instance, they found that 76% of self-identified teabaggers want President Obama’s policies to fail, compared with only 32% among conservatives not affiliated with the Tea Party. Four in ten non-teabag conservatives think the President’s policies are socialist, about half the rate among teabaggers (75%).
They also teased out an effect of interviewer’s race on how willing conservative respondents were to endorse crazier anti-Obama conspiracy theories. When a white interviewer asked if the president was born in the US, a third said no, a number which dropped to less than a quarter (a ten point shift) when the same question was asked by a non-white interviewer (with no change in the number saying they “don’t know” whether he was born in the US). Similarly, they saw a ten point shift away from conservatives’ willingness to say that President Obama is a Muslim between white and non-white interviewers (from 25% to 14%, with “don’t know” picking up the shifters). This suggests that there’s at least a subset of conspiracy-minded conservatives who recognize that these conspiracy theories are racist in nature, and they don’t want to admit those biases to a non-white interviewer.
To get around the potential unwillingness of people to admit socially embarrassing beliefs, they employed an intriguing trick. Rather than asking people straight out whether they think President Obama is destroying the country, they divided their sample into two parts, and asked both whether they agreed with any of a list of 4 or 5 statements. One group had statements that were socially innocuous, while the other group got the question about whether the President is destroying the country. By subtracting the averages, it’s possible to estimate the fraction of a given group that agrees with the added statement.
That example showed a major divide between teabaggers and non-teabag conservatives. Among teabaggers, seven in ten think the President is destroying the country, compared to only 1 in 20 non-teabag conservatives.
This gives us a couple of important lessons. First, we shouldn’t attribute these maddening claims that pollute the public discourse to conservatives in general. Second, while we can’t attribute these views to every single teabagger, we can certainly say that they are, as a group/pseudomovement, responsible for the persistence of these ideas in the discourse. And that’s handy to know.