NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Libertarian Roots of the Tea Party

September 7, 2012

Many liberals dismiss the Tea Party as being the rightwing, religious element of the Republican Party. But a closer look at the Tea Party reveals that they are united in their economic issues, not social ones. The economic issues stem from core libertarian ideas such limited to no government interference in the free market and more fairness to people in higher tax brackets, say David Kirby, vice president at FreedomWorks and an associate policy analyst for the Cato Institute, and Emily Ekins, director of polling at Reason Foundation and a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

While libertarians energized the Tea Party in the beginning, the support from libertarians began to ebb, leading to a fractured identity for the Tea Party. That is why today many people have a different conception of what the group stands for, even among those that consider themselves a part of it

First, there is a distinction between Tea Party libertarians and Tea Party conservatives.

  • Forty-eight percent of tea partiers consider themselves libertarians while 51 percent said they held traditional conservative views.
  • Furthermore, the conservative tea partiers identify themselves as 60 percent Republican while 51 percent of libertarian Tea Party members identify themselves as such.
  • Twenty-eight percent of tea party libertarians attend church every week.
  • This is in contrast to 48 percent of tea party conservatives.

Tea partiers do come together on the issues of personal freedom regardless of whether they are conservative or libertarian.

  • Eighty-six percent of tea party libertarians believe the government threatens their rights.
  • Sixty-nine percent of tea party conservatives believe the same thing.

Libertarians that do not consider themselves a part of the Tea Party are less likely to side with Republicans on issues than tea partiers that consider themselves Republicans.

  • Forty percent of libertarians report voting equally for Democrats and Republicans.
  • Only 44 percent of libertarians consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party.
  • Thirty-three percent claim they are hold moderate political views.

While libertarians may have ignited the tea party movement, it has since been coopted and changed over the years to fuel a misperception of what the Tea Party stands for.

Source: David Kirby and Emily Ekins, "Libertarian Roots of the Tea Party," Cato Institute, August 6, 2012.


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