Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Comment on the Tea Party Movement | Bob Altemeyer

An "oldy but a goody"! Sorry I missed it the first time! You can find the proper PDF of this text on Altmeyer's website Be sure and read Altemeyer's free book (PDF) documenting ihis research into the Authoritarian personality type. Also recommended is John Dean's book Conservatives without Conscience, which is based on Altmeyer;s research.


     April 20, 2010

Comment on the Tea Party Movement

A Brief History of the Movement

Today‟s Tea Party movement began in early 2009 in reaction to the American government‟s

efforts to stabilize the banking system and keep the  nation from sinking into economic turmoil. In 

October, 2008 the Democrat-controlled Congress passed a “Wall St. bailout” bill (the “TARP” bill)

proposed by the Bush administration, which Bush immediately signed. This  bill deeply offended 

some economic conservatives who held a “let the chips fall where they may, no matter what” view 

of free market economics. *

Anger among economic conservatives rose yet higher in early 2009 when  Congress 

responded to President Obama‟s call for a massive economic stimulus to keep the recession  from

turning into a Depression.  Almost every major Western  government, whatever its political stripe,

went deeply into the red at this time  to keep its economy afloat. Republicans in Congress voted 

massively  against the bill, and  Democrats took the heat for  trying to  stop a recession  that the 

Republicans had largely caused by deregulating the banking system.

The first of what became Tea Party protests occurred on February 10, 2009. It was produced 

by FreedomWorks, an organization led by influential Republicans such as former House Majority 

Leader Dick Armey, that specialized in  creating “grass roots” protests.  On February 9, a

FreedomWorks official  phoned  Mary Rakovich in  Ft. Myers, Florida, whom he had trained in 

organizing  demonstrations  http://www.verumserum.com/?p=4717 .  He wanted a protest the next 

night when Obama was in town holding a town hall on the stimulus bill. About ten people showed 

up on short notice to decry government waste and “Obama‟s socialism,” but it was a start. Rakovich 

was then interviewed on Fox.

The next week a truly grass-roots demonstration occurred in  Seattle when Keli Carender, 

entirely on her own, asked every conservative she knew to join her in protesting the “pork” in the 

stimulus bill http://taxdayteaparty.com/2009/03/meet-keli-carender-tea-party-organizer-in-s... More than a hundred people showed up. Another week later she used email addresses 

collected at the first meeting to draw a crowd of over 200. Fox‟s Michelle Malkin, reported these 

events, and said, “There should be one of these in every town in America.” Malkin  promoted a 

protest in  Denver  being organized by another conservative group,  Americans for Prosperity. She 

then  stated that the Seattle, Denver  and other  protests showed  a  movement  was growing among 

conservatives against the pork in the spending bill. It certainly was, although  various conservative 

organizations had produced most of the protests and Fox had fanned the flames.

On February 18, President Obama announced a plan to help people refinance bad mortgages. 

This led Rick Santelli, a Chicago-based editor for the CNBC Business Network, to complain on air 

about “promoting bad behavior” by “losers,” and to suggest that a Tea Party be held in Chicago to 

protest this decision. The conservative news website, The Drudge Report, prominently featured “the 

rant” and it  raced around the Internet. On February 27, “Chicago Tea Parties” were staged across 

the United States. But the turnout was light. Only about 200 appeared in Chicago, a rather typical 

result by most reports. Still, there had only been about a dozen at the first protest on February 10.

* I‟m not going to provide references to major events that are part of the public record, such as the TARP bill, nor to 

organizations and polls that can easily be tracked down through Google from the information provided.2

Warmer weather brought out much larger crowds for a nationwide Tax Day Tea Party on 

April 15, 2009.  A  liberal and (in my opinion)  very competent and fair statistician, Nate Silver, 

estimated that over 300,000 people had attended nearly 350 such parties across the nation

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/04/tea-party-nonpartisan-attendance.html . A Rasmussen Poll 

a few days later reported that most  of its sample viewed the Tea Party movement favorably. The 

protestors seemed to be ordinary people who had simply “had it” with Washington.

The  Fourth of July provided the backdrop for the  next day of national protest. I have not 

been able to track down national attendance estimates. The local ones I‟ve seen suggest the turnout 

was down some from Tax Day.

Health Care Reform. In mid-July a new organization with roots in FreedomWorks,  Tea 

Party Patriots, organized a protest against  the  health care  proposals that Democrats were 

developing in Congress. It then helped assemble demonstrations at town halls convened by elected 

representatives to discuss the issues. Some of the meetings were peaceful and polite, but in many 

others opponents of the proposals shouted down speakers and kept representatives from discussing 

the matter with their constituents. 

Yet another group, the Tea Party Express, was created by a Republican public relations firm

in Sacramento eager to get  some of  the  money pouring in from Partiers for  its political action 

committee http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/35785.html . It got into the game  late but 

captured headlines by organizing a cross-country bus tour that made daily stops for demonstrations, 

giving it ties to local groups.  The  officially  non-partisan Tea Party Patriots said the Tea Party 

Express was basically raising money for the GOP. Other Tea Party groups have also sprung up, but 

the Express, with its “PR” skills at organizing events and giving the media catchy stories seems to 

have become the best known of them all. Those Tea Partiers who say they dislike  both  the 

Democratic and  Republican parties probably don‟t know they are increasingly being led by a 

Republican PAC.

The various Tea Parties sponsored a rally in Washington D. C. on September 12 to protest 

the emerging health care legislation. FreedomWorks said 1.5 million protestors had shown up; the 

crowd was more likely  60-70,000  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/09/12/tea-party-expresstakes-washington-... .

Demonstrations continued on the local level throughout the winter, especially whenever 

Congressional representatives came home. But the next major national event was the First Annual 

Tea Party Convention, held in Nashville in February, 2010. Many within the movement condemned 

its mercenary ways, however, including the $100,000 speaker‟s fee given Sarah Palin. 

Tax Day,  2010 saw hundreds of local Tea Party protests across the country. The 

demonstrators were enthusiastic and peaceful. Reports of crowd sizes were sketchy, but the turnout 

appeared  smaller than that a year earlier. The Drudge Report did not even carry a story on the 

demonstrations the next day. The  Washington Post reported the gatherings in Washington  D.C. 

were smaller than those of last September, but “the ire and energy that have defined the tea party 

movement since it became a force last summer have not abated.” The Tea Party Express got the 

lion‟s share of the media coverage with its list of Congressional “heroes” (all Republicans but one) 

and “targets” (all Democrats but one).3

Are Tea Partiers Ordinary Citizens? Three Recent Polls

A  nationwide  Quinnipiac Poll of  1907 registered voters released on March 24, 2010 

reported that 13 percent of its sample said they were part of the Tea Party movement.  Another 

nationwide poll of 3,000 registered voters, released eight days later by the Winston Group, pegged 

the figure at 17 percent. So only a small percentage of potential voters are Tea Partiers. However,

15 percent of the registered voters in the United States amount to 25 million citizens. And they are 

very active and committed individuals in a nation where a solid majority of the citizens are not. And 

additional millions support them even if they do not identify with the movement themselves. To put 

this in perspective, only 81 million people voted in the 2006 mid-term election. 

Like the student radicals and hippies who joined forces to demonstrate against the war in 

Vietnam, the Tea Party is composed of disparate groups united more by what they are against 

(President Obama and Democrats) than what they are for. The public sees them as ordinary people, 

and  Tea Party organizations  insist their members are a cross-section of American adults, a 

nonpartisan mix of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. But the Quinnipiac poll found that 

74 percent of the Tea Partiers were Republicans, or Republican-leaning Independents. Seventy-two 

percent had a favorable view of Sarah Palin, while the sample  as a whole disliked her by a 2-1 

margin. They were a little less educated than most, more female than male, older (most were over 

50), and overwhelmingly white (88 percent).

The Winston Group results  generally reinforced and expanded on  these Quinnipiac

demographics. Eighty-five percent of that batch of Tea Partiers said they were Republicans (57 

percent) or Independents (28 percent). Sixty-five percent said they were “conservatives,” about 

twice the national average. This time males outnumbered females. Most of them again were over 

50. Data were apparently not collected on education or race. Tea Partiers proved much more likely 

than most people to watch Fox News.

The Winston survey dug into what matters to Tea Party members. The most common theme 

was a conservative economic philosophy. Their top priority, like the rest of the sample, was job 

creation. But they thought the way to create jobs was mainly to cut taxes on small businesses and 

increase development of energy resources. Also like the sample as a whole, getting unemployment 

rates down to 5 percent was more important to  Tea Partiers than balancing  the  budget. But in 

general they abhorred deficit spending. Ninety-five percent believed the Democrats were taxing and 

spending too much. Eighty-seven percent said the stimulus package was not working. Eighty-two 

percent opposed the Democrats‟ health care plan.  Eighty-one percent disapproved of Obama‟s 

performance as president; and 81 percent had an unfavorable view of Congressional Democrats. So 

Tea Party members were most united in what they were against: the Democratic Party.

A  third poll,  released  by  USA Today/Gallup on April 5, 2010,  interviewed 1,033 adults

whether they were registered voters or not. So this less-focused poll does not compare directly with 

the first two. It found that 28 percent of the sample  supported the Tea Party movement (whether 

they were members or not); 26 percent opposed it, and  the rest were undecided. The supporters 

were overwhelmingly Republicans or Independents. Seventy percent described themselves as 

“conservatives.” They were  mostly male, only slightly older, 79 percent “Non-Latin White,” but 

just as well-educated as U.S. adults as a whole. They overwhelmingly (87 percent) condemned the 

passage of health reform, and 65 percent said they took a “pro-life” stand on abortion.4

So are the Tea Partiers ordinary people with no political leanings, as they say they are?

Definitely not.  The findings cited above and other data in the polls indicate that the Tea Party is 

overwhelmingly  stocked with  Republican  supporters. They are by no means “ordinary people,”

although the public‟s perception that they are is one of their strongest suits.

Are they just economic conservatives then?  The Winston survey tells us much about Tea 

Partiers‟ economic views, and the “Contract from America” released on April 14, 2010 focuses on 

taxes, federal spending, and big government. But if you  Google the questionnaires that local Tea 

Parties send to candidates, you will almost always find more than questions about these issues. You 

will  often  discover inquiries about religion  as well  (e.g., Do you support school prayer? Do you 

recognize God‟s place in America?). And often there are questions about abortion and gay marriage

and teaching Creation Science in public schools. And you run into queries about gun control, law 

and order, and immigration. So while Tea Partiers  overwhelmingly take conservative economic 

stands, which bind them together most,  many  seem to be strong “social conservatives” as well. 

Local groups often speak of wanting only “pure conservatives” or “100 percent” conservatives as 


Authoritarian Followers

If you read the book presented at this website, you‟ll find lots of evidence that, as a group,

social conservatives  share the psychological trait of being authoritarian followers.


And you can 

hardly miss the authoritarian follower tendencies in the behavior of the Tea Partiers. Here are  a 

dozen that seem pretty obvious.

1.  Authoritarian submission. Authoritarian followers submit to the people they consider 

authorities much more than non-authoritarians do. In this context,  Tea Partiers seem to believe 

without question whatever their chosen authorities say. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, various 

religious groups, the House and Senate GOP leaders, Sen. Grassley from Iowa, Rep. Bachmann 

from Minnesota, and of course Sarah Palin can say whatever they want about the Democrats, and 

the Tea Partiers will accept it and repeat it. The followers don‟t find out for themselves what the 

Democratic leader truly said,  what is really in a bill, what a treaty actually specifies,  or  whether 

taxes have really gone up. They are happy to let Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin do their thinking 

for them.  It has gotten so bad that  their leaders  casually say  preposterous things that are easily 

refuted, because they know their audience will never believe the truth, or even hear about it.

2. Fear. Fear constantly pulses through authoritarian followers, and Tea Partiers are mightily 

frightened. They  believe President Obama is a dictator. They  also  think the country will be 

destroyed by its mounting debt. They readily believed the health care proposals provided for “death 

panels”  that will euthanize  Down‟s  syndrome babies, “put Grandma in the grave,” and place 

microchips in each American so the government can track us. When Rep. Paul Brown (R-GA) said

that Obama‟s plan to expand such things as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps was really intended to 

create a Gestapo-like, brown-shirt military force in the United States, his followers  accepted this.

Conservative leaders especially vilify Barack Obama, recently calling him in the space of two days 

(April 7 and 8) the “most radical president ever” (Gingrich) who is “inflicting untold damage on 

this great country” (Limbaugh) and is inviting a  nuclear attack  on the United States  by indicating 

we won‟t hit back (Palin). The people who orchestrate the Tea Party movement know well what 

button to push first and hardest among social conservatives, and they work it overtime.  And they 

know  spreading  fear  “works” with  others as well. Sometimes it seems they are all trying to outboogie-man each other.5

3.  Self-righteousness.  Self-righteousness runs very strongly in authoritarian followers, and 

combines with fear to unleash aggression in them. The Tea Partiers commonly describe themselves 

as “the good Americans,”  “the true Americans,”  “the people,”  and “the American Patriots.” They 

could hardly wrap themselves in the flag more thoroughly or more often than they do. Theirs is the 

holy cause. They believe they are the only ones who can save the country.

4. Hostility. Authoritarian aggression is one of the defining characteristics of authoritarian 

followers. Do Tea Partiers seem particularly aggressive?  The behind-the-scenes organizers of the 

protests often provided the “words” for the protest through talking-points they distributed. But the 

protestors put the feeling into the song, and  the feeling was often hostility. They  angrily  called 

people who disagreed with them  at the town halls  “Liars,”  “Communists,” and  “Traitors.” They 

booed and booed until opposing speakers simply gave up. They lashed out at elected representatives 

who tried to engage in dialogue. If you look at some of the videos of last August‟s protests, you can 

see veins bulging in the necks of some of the Tea Partiers as they vented their fury.


5. A lack of critical thinking. Authoritarian followers have more trouble thinking logically 

than most people do. In particular, they tend to agree with sayings and slogans, even contradictory 

ones, because they have heard them a lot. Thus Tea Partiers reflexively, patriotically thump that the 

United States is the best country on earth,  but as well that it is now an Obama dictatorship. They 

also have extra trouble applying logic to false reasoning when they like the conclusion.  A  ready

example can be found in Tea Partiers‟ assertion that Obama is a socialist. They have heard this over 

and over again from Rush Limbaugh,  etcetera,  and “so it must be true.” But Obama has never 

advocated state ownership of  an industry. He certainly did not advocate state ownership of health 

insurance, and  eventually  even  backed away from the  “public option”  (that most Americans 

wanted) which would have let the government as well as private companies offer health insurance.


6. Our “biggest problem.” Authoritarian followers will readily believe that lots of things are 

our “biggest problem.” It can be drugs, the decline of religion, the breakdown of the family, you 

name it. Thus it was not hard to get Tea Partiers worked up about, of all things, a plan to improve 

health care to the levels found in other industrialized countries. Yet Tea Partiers believe the passage 

of the health care bill marks the end of liberty. But they could just as easily have been led to believe 

that climate change legislation, nuclear disarmament, gay marriage, or taking “In God we trust” off 

the money  would sound the death knell for America.  In earlier eras it could have been sex 

education, Sunday shopping, the 40-hour week, or a Catholic president that would lead to our doom.

7.  Compartmentalized thinking. Authoritarian followers can have so many  contradictory 

beliefs and  “biggest problems” because their  thinking is highly compartmentalized.  Ideas  exist

independently of the other ideas in their head. Their thinking is so unintegrated because they have 

spent their lives copying what their authorities say, without examining whether the ideas fit together 

sensibly.  And Tea Partiers say over and over that the Democrats are installing a dictatorship, but 

they demonstrate every time they demonstrate that  Americans still have all the freedom of speech

they ever had. And one notes the health care reforms bear a striking resemblance to Social Security 

and Medicare—which many of the protestors happily enjoy and would never give up. Tea Partiers

argue that competition makes private enterprise do things more  efficiently than the wasteful 

government can; but they don‟t want the insurance industry  to have to compete against a public 

option in health care that might offer coverage at lower prices. And they complain bitterly that the 

government is ruining the economy by interfering in the free market system. But the  recession was 

brought on precisely because the banks had been de-regulated, showing the only “invisible hand” at 

work then was the one sliding other people‟s money into its own pocket.  Even Alan  Greenspan

eventually realized this (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/24/business/economy/24panel.html ).


8.  Double Standards.  Highly compartmentalized thinking makes it easy for authoritarian 

followers to employ double standards in their judgments. One finds many examples of this among 

the Tea Partiers. The protest started off being about “pork” in the stimulus bill. But there have long 

been  clots of extravagant local  spending in the federal budget. Who of the protestors took to the 

streets when Senator Ted Stevens, a champion pork barrel-er, brought tons and tons of pork home to 

Alaska year after year, such as Sarah Palin‟s “bridge to nowhere”? Tea Partiers also protested about 

the federal deficit growing by unprecedented leaps and bounds under Obama. But it grew by 

unprecedented leaps and bounds during George W. Bush‟s presidency, and demonstrations against 

that were few and far between.  President Bush signed the $300 billion Housing and Economic 

Recovery Act on July 30, 2008 which gave relief to people who were losing their houses and shored 

up the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac agencies. But this set off no epic rants 

in Chicago or declarations that Bush was a socialist.

Tea Partiers have asserted that the Obama administration has too much power and is taking 

away our Constitutional rights. But they did not cry out when President Bush set up illegal domestic 

spying operations.  And  when Tea Partiers  claimed today‟s government  is riding roughshod over 

basic human rights, how loudly did they protest the previous government‟s use of torture? And can 

we not doubt people‟s commitment to democratic freedoms when they shout down speakers at town 

halls, allowing only their own opinions to be heard? 

Tea Partiers howled, on cue, when the Senate used the reconciliation process to pass health 

care reform. How loudly did they howl when the Republicans used reconciliation to pass George W. 

Bush‟s tax cuts? They thought the Democrats bullied the Senate parliamentarian into giving them 

the  rulings they wanted. Did they recall that this parliamentarian had been hired by  a Republican

controlled Senate, and that those Republicans had fired the previous parliamentarian because he had 

ruled against them? The Tea Partiers vilified  Nancy Pelosi  for  the way she “steamrolled” the 

legislation through the House. Did they ever hear of Tom DeLay, “the meanest man in Congress”?

Tea Partiers claimed abuse of process when Obama made “recess appointments” that he could not 

get through Congress. Do they know how many times George W. Bush did exactly the same thing?

It’s pretty clear that  many, many Tea Partiers aren’t really against the things they say 

they’re against. For them, it‟s OK when Republicans do these things. But that is pure hypocrisy, 

which one finds  in abundance among authoritarian followers. And  in  their leaders, such as the 

various governors who  condemned the stimulus package, said they would refuse  such funds,  but 

then accepted them and had their picture taken at project announcements that followed.

9. Feeling empowered when in groups. Authoritarian followers seem to want to disappear as 

individuals. They‟re not comfortable taking stands on their own, or acting alone. Instead they seem 

fulfilled simply by being part of a large, powerful movement on the march. Thus the insult-hurling

Tea Partiers probably would have been quiet, even deferential, had they met with their member of 

the House one-on-one last August.  But  experiments have shown  that  authoritarian followers are 

highly conforming. When they are in a group of like-minded persons they are much more likely to 

do things, especially aggressive things, that they would  not do alone.  They make a good mob, 

winding each other up by hearing each other yell. Did you notice how they got louder and louder as 

the  town halls  wore on? Being in a crowd of fellow-believers also helps them maintain their 

opinions through the “GOP echo chamber.” “You say to me, „Obama‟s a tyrant!‟ and then I‟ll tell 

you „Obama‟s a tyrant!‟  Then we‟ll both  be more certain he is. And if we‟re  with  lots of other 

people who agree, we‟ll all shout it. And the more we shout it, the more I‟ll believe it.”7

10. Dogmatism. We also know that authoritarian followers lead the league in being 

dogmatic. When their leaders set their opinions for them, those opinions are set in stone. 

Experiments show that nothing (aside from their authorities) can convince them they are wrong. If

overwhelmed by logic and evidence, they simply “castle” into dogmatism. This is probably because 

they don‟t really know why they believe what they believe. They didn‟t figure it out for themselves; 

they Xeroxed what their authorities said. 

Does this apply to Tea Partiers? During the health care debate their authorities said an 

enormous number of untrue things, and the proponents of reform quickly countered them point by 

point.  For example,  Joe Wilson was  proved  the liar  when he  famously  shouted that Obama  was 

lying about no coverage for illegal immigrants. And opponents endlessly told their followers that 

federal dollars would now be used to fund abortions, when they would not. Obama called out the 

Republican House caucus face-to-face in a meeting last January about the lies they had spread, but 

Tea Partiers probably never heard about it. So the truth was out there in lots of places. But it rolled 

right past the protestors, who had been inoculated against catching it.

Another example of Tea Partiers‟ intransigence in the face of fact was illustrated by a CBS 

News/New York Times poll reported on February 12, 2010. Democrats have lowered income taxes 

for almost  all Americans, but the poll found that  virtually none of the Tea Partiers realized their 

taxes had gone down. Instead nearly half of them thought their taxes had gone  up, a mistake they 

made more than twice as often as the rest of the sample. They simply believed the rhetoric of their 

movement more than the information on their own pay slips.

11.  Ethnocentrism. Authoritarian followers are notably ethnocentric, constantly judging 

others and events through “Us versus Them” lenses. They largely choose their friends according to 

their beliefs. They stick to news outlets that tell them what they want to hear.  They live in a 

polarized world, divided into their in-group, and out-groups consisting of everybody else. They 

stress in-group loyalty, and try to keep their distance from the out-groups. 

Tea Partiers certainly display a streak of ethnocentrism. They wrap themselves in the flag so 

tightly, everybody else is outside it. They have very definite out-groups. And of course one of the 

reasons that the Tea Partiers were uninfluenced by what was actually in the health care reform 

proposals is that they relied so much on their untrustworthy trusted sources. 

This fierce in-group orientation, along with the followers‟ need for external confirmation of 

their beliefs, explains why Fox News has such a big audience compared with other outlets, why 

Sarah Palin‟s, Glenn Beck‟s, and Ann Coulter‟s books leap to the top of the best sellers lists, and 

why “hate radio” is so popular. Authoritarian followers have to get their ideas “validated” by others

more than most people do. So they constantly  seek out sources of information that will tell them 

they‟re right. It  amounts to in-group in-breeding of the intellect.  Research shows that less 

authoritarian people  are more likely to consider different sides of an issue, and  figure things out 

more for themselves. 


12. Prejudice. Studies have found that authoritarian followers are among the most prejudiced 

people in society. It is the nastiest aspect of their ethnocentrism, and one they insistently deny—to 

others and to themselves.  And they  really  do not realize how prejudiced they are, compared with 

others, because they associate so much with other prejudiced people.  So their prejudices seem 

normal and perfectly justified to them.8

Racial prejudice appeared at many of the Tea Party demonstrations, in the form of signs, 

banners, and tee-shirts—just as it did during the 2008 campaign  after Sarah Palin  energized the 

social conservatives. Tea Party spokespersons attributed these racist attacks to outsiders, “a few bad 

apples,” or fringe members of the group. However Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for 

governor of New York who was enthusiastically supported by the Tea Party as a “100% 

conservative,” was discovered on April 12, 2010 to have emailed racist photos (and also a picture of 

a  woman having sex with a horse)  to a long list of friends. One  doctored photo  depicted the 

president and Michelle Obama as a stereotyped black pimp and prostitute.  Another described an 

African tribal dance as the Obama inauguration rehearsal. A third picture showed an airplane 

landing behind a group of black men, with the caption, “Holy Shit, run niggers, run!"

Paladino quickly disassociated himself from the emails he sent, saying “That activity is not 

Carl Paladino.” He didn‟t however say who it was instead, but still insisted he is not a racist. You 

can be pretty sure that the rank-and-file  of the Tea Party  doesn‟t think he is either. But the point 

here is, he sent these pictures to so many associates, some influential people in the movement had to 

know what he thought. And it was apparently all right with them too, for he got a rousing Tea Party 


The vitriol directed at  Barack Obama seems unprecedented to many observers. It may be 

that most Americans now see him as the President of the United States who happens to be AfricanAmerican. But to many  Tea Partiers he is a black man/N-word first, who has no right to be 

president. Instead, he is  a Muslim,  a foreigner,  a gangster,  a fascist, a communist,  even the antiChrist. And they will probably never see him as anything else.

* * * * * * *

You will find the research alluded to in the twelve points above in The Authoritarians.



will also see that the  studies discovered less authoritarian people were not nearly as submissive, 

fearful, self-righteous, etcetera as the authoritarian followers. It‟s not a case of, “Well, you do it too,

just as much.” Liberals do show some of these same behaviors—but not nearly as often. So if you 

have noticed, for example, how hostile today‟s conservative and Republican leaders have been with 

their inflammatory speeches, cross-haired congressional targets, and threats to turn a shotgun on the

census taker, compared to liberals and Democrats, you have noticed something repeatedly borne out 

by scientific study. 

Still and all, I was just amazed by the Tea Party protest movement. It seemed as if  the 

demonstrators had read the research findings on authoritarianism and then said, “Let‟s go out and 

prove that all those things are true.” Whatever else the Tea Party movement has accomplished, it 

has certainly made the research on authoritarianism look good. 


The Other Authoritarian Personality

Because the Tea Partiers display so many “classic” signs of authoritarian followers,  I think 

it‟s safe to conclude that a lot of the members have such personalities.


But another sizeable group 

swells the ranks who would seem to have little tendency to follow anyone: libertarians. And while 

the two  contingents may agree on many economic issues, they appear to have fundamentally 

different views of government and liberty.9

Oh sure, authoritarian followers will shout that Obama has too much power and is crushing 

individual liberty. But studies have shown  they would  like government to impose  their own 

religious beliefs upon others, outlaw the teaching of evolution, punish homosexuals, forbid 

abortions, and so on. Libertarians, on the other hand, may genuinely want a government that does as 

little as possible and lets “nature take its course” otherwise. They wouldn‟t want governments 

saying anything about abortion, for instance. They‟d say that‟s the woman‟s decision. As John Dean 

and Barry Goldwater Jr. point out in Pure Goldwater, that was the very pro-choice position of “Mr. 

Conservative” himself (who almost certainly could not get the  GOP nomination for the Senate in 

Arizona now because of that position).

Libertarianism has deep roots in American history. Nobody likes the government telling him 

what to do, and then having to fill out pages and pages of forms to do it. And you  find libertarian 

sentiments at almost every Tea Party web site, talking about individual rights, small government,

and taxation. Their positions vary from general principles that everyone can agree with (taxes must 

be spend wisely; government waste must be reduced) to quite dramatic pronouncements such as this 

I found at http://www.teaparty-patriots.com/ on April 13, 2010.

“In a Republic we have three kinds of people…

Group One: These are the achievers, those who stride, work hard 

and are rewarded with the fruits of their toils.

Group Two: The non-achievers. This group seldom exerts the extra 

effort required to rise above their station and attain their 

perceived goals. They are dissatisfied with their lot in life and 

spend much of their lives in envy of achievers.

Group Three: This segment consists of those who contribute 

absolutely nothing, yet demand equality based on the labor and 

achievements of society as a whole.

Any attempt to engage in the confiscation or the conscription of 

the fruit of one man’s labor, by either men or government, in 

order to provide goods or services to another is an act of illegal 

plunder and as such should be protested and resisted by all.”

According to this rather extreme position,  a government that  used tax revenues to give a 

white cane to a blind man would be illegally plundering others. As well, one can think of other 

“Groups” besides the three listed above, such as “Group One-A: Those who work hard and are not

rewarded with the fruits of their toils because of unfairness.”

Libertarians vary in how much the government should do, but staunch libertarianism 

apparently rejects the role that government can play in righting injustice and social wrong. It seems 

to say, “If some people get screwed in life because of discrimination against their race or gender or 

nationality or sexual orientation or whatever, that‟s their tough luck. The government exists to do 

things like organize fire departments. It has no business interfering with the way society works.” 10

One can hold this view, but it does not overflow with sympathy, generosity, or a sense of 

justice. When millions of Americans had no health insurance and other millions were being gouged 

by the big insurance companies, when so many had been laid off because of a recession caused by 

greedy, deceitful bankers, when the poor stayed poor while the rich got richer through tax cuts

enormously  favoring them, the “leave things alone”  attitude seems morally bankrupt and  very 

selfish. You often see the Gadsden flag at Tea Party rallies; it‟s the yellow one with the coiled snake 

in the center. The inscription under the snake does  not read, “Don‟t tread on us;” it goes, “Don‟t 

tread on me.” It‟s an apt symbol for this kind of libertarianism. 

If you read postings and comments that argue the Tea Party‟s case on various websites, you 

will sometimes encounter sentiments like those expressed in the “Three Groups” quote above. Poor 

people are poor, they say, simply because they are lazy.  We should not extend  unemployment 

benefits to  the people laid off  now because it will just encourage them to  watch TV instead of 

looking for work. The poor people who accepted the banks‟ invitation to buy nice houses for their 

families at low interest rates were “reaching beyond their class” and deserved to lose them. The rich 

are rich simply because they worked harder than everybody else, and deserve their wealth. Obama 

is taking money from those who work hard to buy votes from people demanding hand-outs.

These attitudes come right out of the catechism of the other authoritarian personality that 

research has discovered, the  social dominators. Their defining characteristic is opposition to 

equality. They believe instead in dominance, both personal (if they can pull it off) and in their group

dominating other groups. They endorse using intimidation, threats, and power to enrich themselves 

at the expense of others. This is the natural order of things, they believe. “It is a mistake to interfere 

with the „law of the jungle,‟ they argue. Some people were meant to dominate others.” “It‟s a dog 

eat dog world in which the superior people get to the top.”

Such people may want government to stick to running fire departments so they can rise/stay 

above others unimpeded. Research shows that social dominators are power-hungry, mean, amoral, 

and even more prejudiced than the authoritarian followers described earlier. They want unfairness 

throughout society. Barack Obama, and the ludicrous  perception that he is going to lead AfricanAmericans in “taking over America” would be their worst nightmare. So the hypothesis that the Tea 

Party movement has more than its fair share of social dominators may have merit.


The Tea Party movement was largely created by conservative groups that provided 

organization, guidance and publicity for the protests. But these efforts by themselves would never 

have gotten tens of thousands, much less hundreds of thousands of Americans into public squares to 

rail against the government. While the sponsoring organizations undoubtedly set up the protests for 

their own purposes, bussed demonstrators to town halls, and organized massive telephone and email 

campaigns to elected officials, “astroturfing” can‟t explain the size of the protests. The Tea Partiers

seem to have been spring-loaded, waiting for the call to arms. I suspect FreedomWorks and the Tea 

Party Express were rather astonished at how easily they rounded up crowds, and have been working 

hard ever since trying to control and channel the eruption they set off.

The people who responded to the call appear to be primarily the authoritarian followers who 

form  the base of the  present GOP—social conservatives  who, when they  campaigned behind 

religious leadership, were known as the religious right. But the movement also attracted economic 

conservatives, who  also  strongly tend to lean Republican. Many of these economic conservatives

are libertarians, and they may include a relatively high percentage of social dominators. 11

Other groups have no doubt flocked to the Tea Party banner. Like most populist movements, 

the Tea Party has attracted many people who are pissed off about many different things. And while 

it is intensely organized on the local level, it is anything but unified nationally. Some local groups 

insist they are politically independent and equally disgusted with both parties. And of course many

people in the movement are not particularly authoritarian. But it does seem that the movement has 

lots of authoritarians in it, and that is quite troubling.

Suppose slavery still existed in the United States, but the federal government was trying to 

end it. However Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and so on told their audiences that slavery was a good 

thing,  recognized by the Founding Fathers,  endorsed  in the Old Testament, the natural order of 

things, an issue for individual states to decide,  protected by an individual‟s inalienable right to do 

what he wanted with his property, and so on. I doubt Abraham Lincoln would find these arguments 

compelling. But how much trouble do you think the Patriotic Association of Slave Owners would 

have getting today‟s Tea Partiers out to campaign for slavery in America?

What will the future bring?

Is the Tea Party losing steam? Tax Day 2010 apparently  did not bring out nearly as many 

protestors as Tax Day 2009 did. Does that mean the Tea Party is waning, and by November will be 

but a shadow of itself? I wouldn‟t count on it. The grass roots may have tired of taking to the plazas 

over and over. After all, how many votes on health care reform did the demonstrations change? But 

the various organizers behind the movement are clearly focused now on November, and the people 

who show up at the rallies are promising to turf their enemies out through the ballot box. I think it‟s 

foolish to think the Tea Partiers are going to go home and stay there. They are madder now than 

they‟ve ever been. They pump each other up too much to quit. They are by far the most committed 

political force in the  country now. And their numbers are not dropping in the polls. A CBS 

News/New York Times poll released April 10, 2010 found 18 percent of the sample identified with 

the Tea Party, compared with 13 percent and 17 percent in polls a little earlier.

The movement  has lost  some of its shining image among the American people. Fifty-one 

percent of a Rasmussen poll released after the first Tax Day rally had a favorable view of the Tea 

Party. The figure had dropped to 28 percent in the Quinnipiac poll dated March 24, 2010, and 37 

percent in the USA Today/Gallup poll of April 5. But Americans still hold Tea Partiers in higher 

esteem than their national leaders. Rasmussen released a poll on April 1, 2010 that showed most

registered voters believe the average member of the Tea Party has a better understanding of the 

issues facing America than the average member of Congress. President Obama fared little better in 

a Rasmussen  poll released on April 5: 48 percent said the average Tea Bagger is closer to their 

views than the president is, compared to 44 percent who opted for Obama. Republicans of course 

overwhelmingly voted for the average Tea Bagger, and Democrats  of course  overwhelmingly 

endorsed the president. The difference in the  final score  was decided by  Independents, who felt 

closer to the Tea Partiers by a 50-38 margin. 

In the long run, the emergence of the Tea Party movement is just the latest step in the 

radicalization of the Republican Party that began in the 1980s. The same people who formed the 

religious right over the past twenty-five years continue to drive the party to the far, far right. In the 

process almost every moderate  Republican leader  has been  purged from the lists, and the party‟s 

intellectual capital is as low now as Lehman Brothers‟ net worth when it rolled over and went belly 

up. When the American Enterprise Institute  recently fired David Frum for saying the GOP was 

contributing to its own Waterloo by listening to the most radical voices in the party, it was just the 

latest loss of a principled, intelligent conservative that began some time ago.12

As a moderate and an Independent, I would like to see at least two sets of well-thought-out 

policies to choose from when I vote. But who is left to shape and guide conservatism in America 

now? Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? Sean Hannity? Newt Gingrich? Michelle 

Bachmann? Mitch McConnell? John Boehner? Mitt Romney? Scott Brown? Mike Huckabee? Ann 

Coulter? The best and brightest Republicans have been  shown the door.  As was true during 

McCarthyism, some GOP leaders must be deeply concerned about what is happening, but few dare 

speak. They‟ve seen what happens when someone challenges Rush.

Will the Tea Party become a third political party?  I doubt it.  Some  local groups are 

determined to keep the Republican Party at arm‟s length, but where else can the Tea Partiers go in

their determination to throw out the Democrats?  The Tea Party  will  probably  put up  candidates 

itself  only in contests where the nominees are too moderate for its tastes. The Conservative Party 

did this in New York‟s 23


Congressional District in 2009, causing a monumental Republican loss 

in a district the party had won for eons. The resulting message of “Do what we want, or you‟ll lose” 

has to make local GOP officials very leery of supporting a candidate unsatisfactory to the Tea Party 

leadership.  And the Tea Party wants “pure conservative” candidates like Carl Paladino who take 

very right-wing stands on everything.  It‟s not going to be enough to just champion smaller 

government and lower taxes. So Republican nominees will probably become yet more radical than 

they are now.

In the long run, this should be good for the Democrats. Most Americans do not like radicals 

of any stripe, they want gifted people running the government, and they will turn on liars once they

discover the lies. Thus Sarah Palin hurt the GOP ticket in 2008. But in the short run, meaning this 

year of 2010, I see a great danger. The rock-solid Republican base has been recharged  and 

augmented. It will bust a gut to send as many radical social/economic conservatives to Congress as 

possible. While the Tea Party movement is opposed by a significant part of the population, the rest

of the electorate is up for grabs. And not many people understand who is controlling the Tea Party 

movement, who is in it, and what they will do if they come to power. Significantly more 

Republicans than anyone else tell pollsters now that they are certain to vote in November. And 

although Democrats appreciably outnumber Republicans in the country, more people say they plan 

to vote for a Republican candidate than a Democrat. Combining the zeal of the Republican grass 

roots with a slowly recovering economy, a less-than-popular president,  and the  sentiment that 

“Whoever‟s in/running Congress now should be thrown out on his ass,” I predict the Republicans 

will score a great victory in November.


Unless. Unless the least authoritarian part of the American population out-organizes, outhustles, out-reaches, out-recruits, out-communicates, and out-delivers the votes drummed up by the 

most authoritarian part. They did exactly that in 2008, and achieved unimagined victories. So it can 

be done,  by  patiently and  sensibly explaining to  moderate, independent, “middle” voters exactly 

who got us into this mess, and who has done nothing to get us out of it except constantly say “no”—

like someone who stands on the hose when you‟re trying to put out a fire. And if the Tea Partiers 

succeed in getting more and more extremists running on the Republican ticket,  that should open 

huge differences between the Democratic candidates and them. That can produce victory after 

victory—thanks to the Tea Partiers.

But alternately, the least authoritarian folks can find a dozen reasons to do little or nothing, 

and then the authoritarians will win.  I‟m pretty sure the authoritarians will be ready to take to the 

field next autumn in force,  deeply  committed and raring to go. So the  liberals will decide the 

outcome of the election in November.




It will seem strange that persons protesting against the government would be labeled “authoritarian 

followers.” But the concept of authoritarianism centers on submission to those whom one views as 

the legitimate, established authorities.  And the whole point of the “birther” campaign against 

Obama is  that he is  an illegitimate president. As well, many Republican rank-and-file members 

believe the Democrats were unfairly favored by the media in 2008, and stole the election through 

massive voter fraud engineered by ACORN.  Back to text


On April 13, 2010 word appeared that Tea Party leaders in Oklahoma were trying to organize an 

armed militia to fight federal intrusion into state‟s rights. And on April 18 a Baptist minister told a 

rally in Greenville, S.C. that he was "ready to suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what 

they trained me to do.”  I‟m sure he‟d say he holds the Constitution sacred, but he‟s talking about 

armed insurrection against the United States  government. At the same rally former Representative 

and GOP presidential hopeful  Tom Tancredo said it was time to send Obama “back to Kenya.”  

Back to text


Limbaugh (http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_030209/content/01125112.guest.html) 

has given definitions of socialism which sensibly centered on state ownership of industry. But he 

then “showed” that the Democrats were socialists because, for example, they caused the subprime 

crisis. (?) (??) (???) Recently Sean Hannity agreed that Obama was a socialist: “Obama is a 

socialist. If you take over banks, if you take over car companies, if you take over financial 

institutions, the way that he has--now the health care system. If you're going to use every crooked 

deal that you can come up with to get a bill like that passed--most recently the health care bill--that 

is by definition, if you look up the dictionary definition of socialism, this is it." 


If you can work your way through Hannity‟s fractured syntax (is socialism defined as “using 

every crooked deal,” or as the health bill, and how is either  of those a definition?) he ignores the 

fact that it was George W. Bush who asked for the TARP funds, and then gave billions in loans to 

General Motors and Chrysler as well as the banks. Obama continued loaning TARP funds to 

various banks to keep them  solvent, and he advanced billions more to GM and Chrysler. But true 

blue socialists  hardly loan money to industries going down the tubes when no one else will; they 

nationalize them. Barack Obama hasn‟t nationalized anything. (The Treasury  does  now own 60 

percent of GM stock, taken as security for a lot of the loan; but it is looking forward to selling its 

shares so it can get some of its money back.) 

My point here is that Limbaugh‟s and Hannity‟s  confused and misleading pronouncements 

are accepted so uncritically by Tea Partiers. A  competent senior in  high school  would  find their 

flaws after 30 minutes of research.  Back to text


A CBS News/New York Times poll released on the eve of the 2010 Tax Day protests reported that 

most Tea Party supporters said the income tax they paid this year was fair. This may be a stunning 

example of compartmentalization, since the “Tea” in Tea Party is  often  said to stand for “Taxed 

enough already.” But there was considerable ambiguity in the question used: “Is the income tax you 

will pay this year fair?” “Fair” in what sense? Does the government take a fair part of my income, 

versus too much? Or did some people interpret the question to mean, “Are your taxes fair relative to 

what everyone else pays?” You will also note that the question was not worded in “both directions,” 

such as “Is the income tax you will pay this year unfair or fair?” Authoritarian followers tend to 14

acquiesce (say yes) more than most people do when asked ambiguous questions. So it may be that 

100 percent of Tea Party supporters think their taxes are too high, despite the poll‟s findings.  Back 

to text


In this context one must stand on a chair and applaud Senator Tom Corburn (R-OK) who told an 

Oklahoma  City town hall on April 5, 2010 not to believe everything they saw on Fox News. 

Instead, he said, they should watch other channels as well, and get a balanced view of what‟s going 

on. He also chided his audience when it booed the name Nancy Pelosi. He said she was a nice 

person. “Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn‟t mean they‟re not a good person” he 

added. (Bill O‟Reilly of Fox News was not amused at Corburn‟s comment.)  Back to text


The list of parallels between the research on authoritarian followers and the behavior of Tea 

Partiers  probably extends  well  beyond twelve. For example, such followers  in general  have very 

poor self-insight; they realize almost nothing about how  unfavorably  they stack up compared to 

most people. As well, authoritarian followers run away from bad news about themselves; they are 

highly defensive. Authoritarian followers also have a strong tendency to be zealots, and Tea Partiers 

seem quite zealous. And authoritarian followers know surprisingly little about the things they say 

they believe in. It would be interesting to see how much the Tea Partiers  actually  know about the 

Founding Fathers, the  Constitution,  and  American history. For example Tea Partiers commonly 

refer to the sanctity of “the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” Do they not know about all the 

amendments since 1791, or just don‟t consider them part of the Constitution?  Back to text


The Authoritarians was written in 2006 and appeared on this website in early 2007. One can 

quietly modify an e-book over and over again, changing what one said to fit new facts. But except 

for (numerous) spelling corrections, and changing “I Titus” to I, Claudius” on pp. 157-8, the book

appears  now  as it did  originally.  The Authoritarians has been read by some tens of thousands of 

people—proving the price is right.  Only a few people  have challenged the results. The most 

determined protest came from a conservative blogger who thought my findings on authoritarianism 

were misleading because my way of measuring authoritarianism involved issues that conservatives 

had definite opinions about, whether they were authoritarian or not. The findings would disappear, 

he said, if a good measure of conservatism were used instead, such as political party affiliation. The 

discussion ended  when I did the analyses he wanted, and found Republicans were  way  more 

prejudiced than Democrats, etcetera.

As I mention at the end of the book, some other researchers think I am really, unknowingly

studying intense in-group identification, or some other thing. (It may be a sign of dogmatism, but I 

haven‟t been convinced yet.) But there have been no noteworthy “failures to replicate,” as far as I 

know,  by other scientists—going back to 1981 when these results began appearing. Indeed, the 

record for replication and extension by other researchers in other places has been quite reinforcing. 

Back to text


The task of identifying Tea Partiers‟ sentiments might grow more difficult now because a group 

called “Crash the Tea Party” announced on April 13, 2010 that it will infiltrate their rallies. Their 

goal is to “top” whatever a real member of the movement says, to make them sound like a gathering 

of crazy people. I think this both unfair and unwise. How would liberals like it if some group posed 

as Communists in their ranks and shouted Marxist slogans to the press? And just by announcing the 

plan to place  agents provocateurs at Tea Party demonstrations, they have given the movement a 

ready alibi when one of its real members does something stupid. (In fact, the “Spy vs. Spy” part of 

my personality suspects this announcement is bogus—I mean, why would you tell people you were 15

going to do this?—and the real purpose is to  sow internal distrust by making the real Tea Partiers 

suspect one another.) [end]t


A Pew Research poll released on April 18, 2010 found that only 22% of its nationwide sample said 

they trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time.  Back to text


Americans are rightly disgusted with Congress. Democratic lawmakers might sensibly respond to 

this disgust by offering the voters a list of promises regarding pork barreling, lobbyist influence, 

Senator “holds,” limiting the filibuster,  campaign financing,  and so on that they will enact if they 

win enough seats—with some iron-clad promises of what will happen if they don‟t.  Back to text

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