Americans and government: Has the Tea Party peaked? Some evidence
Jun 16th 2011, 19:59 by G.I. | WASHINGTON
WHAT’S behind the Tea Party? Is it an affirmative embrace of 19th-century libertarianism and minimal government, or a reactionary rejection of Barack Obama and the serial interventions of the crisis and its aftermath? Almost certainly both, but I suspect the second dominates, judging by signs the movement is peaking.
My colleague at Democracy in America imputes from Mitt Romney’s surge into the lead among presidential contenders the beginning of the end of the Tea Party’s influence in the GOP. Now, the latest WSJ-NBC opinion poll contains clues that the movement’s broader appeal may also be waning. As my chart shows, after a brief reversal, Americans are once again getting comfortable with more government in their lives.
Since the early 1990s this poll has been asking respondents whether government should do more or already does too many things, helpfully boiling down a complicated and nuanced relationship with the state to a couple of numbers. Americans in growing numbers over the 1990s and 2000s embraced more government. I believe (but cannot prove) this mainly reflected three things: the stagnation of middle-class incomes that Americans, wrongly, blame on globalisation and China, 9/11, which suggested a more intrusive state was the price of personal safety, and the financial crisis, which they blamed on capitalism run amok.
This trend turned abruptly in late 2008, which I attribute to several factors. First, much as Americans hated the bankers who brought on the crisis, they hated even more the bail-outs designed to save both the bankers and Main Street from the crisis’ consequences. Second, Mr Obama inaugurated a period of much more government activism, both by necessity (stimulus, the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill) and choice (Affordable Care Act, various regulations) that many Americans didn’t like. These feelings paralleled the rise of the Tea Party, peaking around last fall’s midterms with the Republicans’ capture of the House of Representatives.
Since then, time and events have cooled passions. The bail-outs are receding from memory (and turning a profit), Mr Obama has tacked to the centre, and the economy continues to disappoint. Republicans overreached with Paul Ryan’s budget, thinking the population ready for a draconian restructuring of Medicare to deal with a looming debt crisis. Apparently, it isn’t.
I read several lessons into these results. First, political leaders regularly get out over their ski tips when they think the population is shifting rapidly to the left or the right. Ronald Reagan learned that in 1982, Mr Obama did so in 2010, and it may soon be the turn of the Republican far right.
At the same time, Americans’ comfort with more government seems to parallel a troubling decline in their trust in free markets. Such feelings must not be ratified with bad policies. Many business people, including backers of Mr Obama, detect in his administration a hostility, or at least indifference, to business that has changed little despite a reshuffling in the cast of characters and a tack to the centre. I don’t personally agree but you can’t blame business for feeling that way when the federal government does things that are sure to feed this fear. Bill Daley may have worked for JPMorgan Chase and served on Boeing’s board before becoming Mr Obama’s chief of staff, but that is less important than federal regulators’ plans to double capital requirements on JPMorgan Chase and its too-to-big-fail peers and punish Boeing for bypassing its unions in locating an assembly plant. Until now Mr Obama, whatever his faults, was more palatable to business than the gold bugs and debt defaulters on the right. If the Tea Party’s hold on the GOP loosens, that paves the way for a mainstream candidate that business can back with enthusiasm.
The original post is linked here.