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Tea Party Racism: Some Experimental Evidence

- December 12, 2011


bq. Lavine and his colleagues designed an online survey and got responses from a sample of about 800 citizens, including many who expressed sympathy for the Tea Party and many who did not. The survey asked about programs designed to help people who can’t keep up with their mortgage payments stay in their homes…

bq. But the online survey contained two curveballs.  At the beginning of the section on the mortgage assistance, a picture was included of a man, presumably a struggling homeowner, and a house with a foreclosure sign in the yard. Half of the sample saw a white man in the yard; half saw a black man. That’s curve No. 1.  The second curve was the way the survey suggested those men came to be standing in their yards next to a foreclosure sign. Half the sample was told: “As we now know, many people took out large loans and mortgages during the housing bubble that they couldn’t afford and they are likely to lose their homes unless the government intercedes.”

This is from research by political scientists Howard Lavine and David Perkins, which is summarized here. The results:

bq. Tea Party sympathizers who heard the “irresponsible behavior” explanation for the problem and who saw a picture of a black homeowner were significantly more likely to say that they blamed the homeowner for the problem, significantly more likely to say they opposed a government program to help that person with their mortgage problem and significantly more likely to say they were angry that such people might get assistance from such a program…the Tea Partiers who saw a black homeowner in the picture were 15 percent angrier than those who saw a white homeowner.

The graph: