Published in the Portland Phoenix and the Boston Phoenix
Much sport has been made of the hilariously misspelled signs created and proudly displayed at rallies by barely literate Tea Partiers. But far more serious are their apparent deficits in basic math, science, ethics, and social studies, not to mention logic. The results of a recent New York Times/CBS News poll suggest several areas for possible re-education.
ON GOVERNMENT SPENDING (LOGIC) The percentage of Tea Partiers who live in households with Medicare and Social Security recipients is higher than in the overall population, and 62 percent of them say Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers. But 67 percent of them would favor having a smaller government, even if it meant cutting domestic programs — including Social Security and Medicare.
ON POPULAR OPINION (MATH) Though the poll — the margin of error of which is three percentage points — finds that just 18 percent of Americans identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, 84 percent of Tea Partiers think their movement’s views “generally reflect the views of most Americans.”
ON RACISM (SOCIAL STUDIES) Perhaps they are the real post-racists: 73 percent of Tea Partiers think black people and white people have equal opportunities to “get ahead” in today’s society.
ON PUBLIC EDUCATION (ETHICS) Sixty-five percent of them send their kids to public school (which is less than the 70 percent rate in the overall population).
ON CLIMATE ISSUES (SCIENCE) More than half — 51 percent — of Tea Partiers think global warming will not have a serious impact on human existence, and a further 15 percent don’t think it’s happening at all.
There are, however, some unexpected bright spots highlighted in the poll.
ON SURVIVALISM Many fewer Tea Partiers (only five percent) than we might have feared have actually gone the bunker route and purchased gold coins or bars in the past 12 months.
ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Sixteen percent of Tea Partiers want same-sex couples to have the right to marry, and 41 percent want civil unions legalized.
It also seems noteworthy that this movement doesn’t have much youth power: a full three-quarters of them are over age 45, with 29 percent over age 64. Nor, for as passionate as they seem, do they offer much commitment: 78 percent of people who consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement have neither donated money nor attended a rally or meeting. Nor much tech-savvy: 68 percent of them haven’t even visited a Web site associated with the movement. (Perhaps, like their ideological brother Chief Justice John Roberts, they don’t actually know how to use a computer.)