Researchers Think They Know Why College-Educated People Support The Tea Party

College-educated supporters of the tea party might change their political tune if they mingled more with those less educated than themselves.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame said college graduates are more likely to support tea party ideas if they live in counties characterized by high levels of residential segregation based on education level. The researchers found the correlation between tea party support and educational segregation to be uniquely strong compared to factors like racial segregation and class segregation.

Rory McVeigh, a University of Notre Dame political sociologist and author of the study, told The Huffington Post that he was interested in discovering what communities might be particularly hospitable to tea party principles and why. Prior to the study, he posited that the tea party ideology, which advocates for limited government and low government spending, might resonate more among people who don't interact much with low-income individuals who may benefit from government programs. As it turns out, McVeigh was on to something.

“My thinking was that people who are likely to embrace [tea party ideology] are more likely to be people who have had some success and life and limited exposure to those who haven’t enjoyed the same advantages. ... Education is such an important predictor of how you end up in life,” said McVeigh over the phone.

The results of the study, which draws from data on the number of tea party organizations in counties across America and Census Bureau information on county-wide educational segregation, showed that the distribution of college-educated individuals plays a role in tea party support. The report also notes that educated, white, middle class Republicans are more likely to support the tea party regardless of educational segregation in their county, although educational segregation exacerbates this likelihood.

McVeigh explained to HuffPost why this might occur.

“When you’ve had little exposure to people who haven’t had the same opportunities as you, you’re more likely to adopt a view that ‘really anybody who wanted to could have succeeded if they only did what I did,’” said McVeigh. “I really think the key here is education is widely understood to be a primary determinant of where you end up in life. ... But as we know, not everybody has the same access to a high-quality education.”

In the study, researchers relate this idea to the impact racial segregation has on racism.

“Similar to how racial segregation shapes perceptions of racial inequality, and occupational sex segregation shapes perceptions of gender inequality, we consider the possibility that residential segregation of the highly educated may facilitate mobilization of a social movement, such as the Tea Party, that opposes redistribution of wealth to society’s less prosperous citizens,” says the study.

A press release for the study notes that even though support for the tea party is not as strong as it once was -- especially since 2010, when grassroots support for tea party organizations was at a high -- Republican politicians still cater to tea party voters.

“The analyses help us understand,” McVeigh says in the press release, “how a movement enabled by highly resourced conservative organizations has been able to draw the support it needed to credibly present itself as a grassroots movement representing ordinary Americans, and thus exert influence on voters and the political process.”



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