News / USA

Tea Party Shakes, Shapes US Politics

Greg Flakus

Protests against Wall Street and economic inequality have grown in New York, Washington and other U.S. cities, as citizens speak out against corporate interests.  These protests in some ways mirror the rise of the so-called "Tea Party" movement two years ago.  The Tea Party wants to cut taxes and reduce the size of the central government, and it now plays a major role in the battle for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. It has influence, but it remains a loosely-organized movement with no central leadership.

The first Tea Party rallies drew a lot of people who had never been involved in politics.  The Tea Party expressed public anger over the 2008 economic crisis, the government bailout of large banks and the growing national debt.  

But it remains a loose-knit movement, with no one leader.  The majority of Tea Party supporters are middle class, non-Hispanic whites.

However, presidential candidate Herman Cain is very popular in the Tea Party and black Americans who do show up at rallies are often among the most vocal participants.

Anita Moncrief once worked with a community organizing group that supported President Barack Obama, but now rejects government social programs.

"We are teaching to celebrate prosperity and capitalism and that is the only pathway out of poverty that is viable," said Moncrief.

In past elections, conservatives focused on issues like abortion and gay marriage, but Tea Party supporter Amy Long says the nation's fiscal health is paramount.

"I care about the social issues and that is great, but now is not the time, I think, that I need the perfect candidate," said Long.  "I just want someone to get in there and get us out of debt."

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones says the Tea Party has drawn the lines for next year's presidential contest by clamoring for deficit reduction, but rejecting Democrat Party calls for increased revenue.  He says the movement's ability to rally large numbers of voters gives it a special hold on the Republican Party.

"The Tea Party groups are so prominent within there and have such strong mobilization capabilities that many even centrist Republicans are wary of alienating them," explained Professor Mark Jones of Rice University.  But Jones adds that Tea Party pressure on Republicans to reject compromise gives President Obama a strong card to play with moderate voters.

"He can say that these Republican extremists, out of fear of the Tea Party, 'have blocked all my efforts to improve the economy,'" noted Jones.

And, although a majority of voters worry about the deficit and growing debt, polls show they are even more concerned about economic stagnation and unemployment.

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