And the Southern Tea Party is a different beast from the Northern Tea Party. Our most striking finding in that 2012 data is that racism significantly predicts Tea Party membership in the South — and not just any kind of racism but "old-fashioned racism." A high old-fashioned racism score means a respondent is willing to say on a survey that African Americans are lazy, untrustworthy, and unintelligent on a 7-point scale (meaning there is plenty of room for neutrality, room to hide one’s views).But ..... but .... but ....
Given today’s social norms, only the most defiant, the most willing to embrace racial stereotypes, will admit such prejudice, so researchers had in recent years largely abandoned such questions in favor of subtler measures of racial resentment (including, for instance, a strong denial of institutional racism). But anti-Obama sentiment among whites has brought old-fashioned racism back into the public arena, and the Tea Party in the South gave it a home.
Us vs. Them? Now, THERE is an idea for a presidential campaign.
Yet in the South, the dovetailing of racist sentiment and intense disdain for the nation’s first black president makes it hard to conclude that the Southern Tea Party is not substantially shaped by racial animus.
The history of slavery and Jim Crow, along with the longstanding tendency of white Southerners to define themselves racially as "us versus them" made the racist side of the Tea Party’s anti-Obama
spirit all the more attractive.
The point is not that racism or xenophobia or an "us versus them" cosmology does not exist in the rest of the country. It’s that the Tea Party showed that politicians and political movements can still make direct racist appeals to white Southerners, and a substantial number of them, in the Republican Party’s largest geographic voting bloc, will still applaud. And that applause resonates nationally, falling on quite a few sympathetic ears.