Road-Mapping the RBA

Research Question:

To what extent is the Tea Party a truly populist organization as opposed to a movement co-opted by corporate and industrial interests?

Thesis Moment:

Though the Tea Party is funded to a large degree by billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, the Tea Party had genuine origins in populist uprising. In 2009, the conservative response to the Obama administration’s government-expanding policies was one of anger and passion; citizens were ready to take to the streets in protest. These months were a formative period for the Tea Party, defining the movement’s ideals and positions. The Tea Party made a big splash in the 2010 midterm elections, with 32% of the newly elected representatives and senators being affiliated in some manner with the Tea Party; however, I argue that the Tea Party began to split at this point as its outspoken anti-Washington candidates entered into Washington politics.

Road Map:

Grassroots – In the first section, I will discuss the “pure” parts of the Tea Party and its humble beginnings as a movement for the people by the people. There is quite a bit of literature on the early Tea Party as it has been roughly a decade now since the Tea Party first entered the national scene, and I hope to use these sources as examples to paint profiles of the people behind the Tea Party.

Astroturfing – In this section, I intend to focus more on the post-2010 era of the Tea Party and draw comparisons between the Tea Party and Koch brother-established political groups such as Citizens for a Sound Economy and Americans for Prosperity, drawing on information from the documentary The Billionaires’ Tea Party: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution. I will also attempt to analyze voting records if they are accessible enough to see if I can find splits in the Tea Party not only on ideology but also on policy.

Evaluation – For my last section, I will use this research and synthesize it into a cohesive conclusion on the Tea Party’s identity as a populist movement or as a case example of astroturfing. I don’t expect to have a totally clear-cut answer since it is likely that the Tea Party lies on a spectrum between these two poles and that its position on this spectrum is dependent on the era being analyzed, and I will address these caveats in my paper.

One thought on “Road-Mapping the RBA”

  1. This question is interesting, nuanced, and ambitious. While I think your structure is solid, I worry that the data you will look at will be enough to clearly show any ideological divides within the Tea Party – not only will it be difficult to control for corporate and media influence from outside the party, but voting data alone may paint a somewhat reductive picture of the Tea Party voting base. Instead, I would consider supplementing your argument by looking at interviews and publications from Tea Party members and leaders, to get representative data and viewpoints from a perspective that is closer to the ground. Otherwise, I think this is a solid topic and plan moving forward.


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