Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Tea Party's "Mandate" Decoded: Why the Math Doesn't Add Up

We all know about the political shift from Democrat to Republican that occurred during last November's Midterm election.  And ever since that time, there's been an unchallenged narrative floating around out there that the "American People," clearly tired of Obama's out-of-control spending in Washington during his first 2 years in office, overwhelmingly threw their support behind the Tea Party which vowed to "take our government back" and put an end to "big government" spending.  And so a narrative was born.  Republican talking head after Republican talking head quickly signed on to the notion that the "American People" had spoken in favor of the Tea Party, giving them a clear mandate to stop government spending.
"The American people sent a wave of new lawmakers to Congress in last November’s election with a very clear mandate: to put our nation’s fiscal house in order."
- Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, August 2, 2011 (emphasis supplied).

"The House must continue to do everything it can to live up to the mandate the American people gave Congress last fall and continue to tackle Washington’s reckless spending habits and free up the private economy to create jobs."
- Rep. Joe Walsh, July 29, 2011 (emphasis supplied).

"I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words:  We've come to take our government back... The mandate of our victory is huge."
- Sen. Rand Paul, November 2, 2010 (emphasis supplied).

Just so we're clear, the claim being made here by the Tea Party is that they have received a mandate from "The American People."  The American People.  As in, all 307,006,550 of us.  Or at least a simple majority of all 307 million of us, since we are, after all, talking about elections where the majority rules. But let's put those numbers aside for now and get back to the narrative. The narrative is that the majority of the "American People" voted in favor of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterm election, which, if true, would surely be a mandate. And, truth be told, until the recent debt ceiling fiasco, America hasn't really questioned whether this Tea Party narrative is true or not.  We've just accepted it as fact.  But what if I told you that the Tea Party actually did not receive a majority of the votes in 2010?  In fact, what if I told you that the Tea Party - the party which told us that it was authorized by the American People to nearly destroy the country last week - did not even receive 10% of the vote from the "American People" last fall?

Let's take a look at the actual numbers, shall we?

There are only 61 Tea Party members in the U.S. House of Representatives out of 435 total members, and only 4 Tea Party members in the U.S. Senate out of 100 Senators.  That means the Tea Party makes up just 14% of the House and a mere 4% of the Senate.  In the House, there are 193 Democrats and 240 Republicans, so even among Republicans, the Tea Party only makes up 25% of the House Republicans.  Since the Tea Party's narrative comes mainly from the fact that the Republicans regained control of the House last November, we'll focus our attention on the House Tea Party members.

A grand total of 8,419,218 people voted in favor of the House Tea Party members in the 2010 midterm.  That may seem like a lot of people in the abstract, but once you consider that, as we said above, there are 307,006,550 people in this country, 8.4 million votes only represents the will of what 2.8% of Americans want.  In other words, 307 million people (97.2% of the country) are being controlled by the desires of 8 million people (2.8% of the country).

Let that sink in for a while.

Now, to be fair to the Tea Party (I know, right?), we should only compare their 8.4 million votes against the total number of people who voted in the 2010 election in order to determine if they received a majority of the support from the "American People" who they claim to speak for.  After all, if only 8.5 million people voted in the 2010 election, and the Tea Party received 8.4 million votes out of that 8.5 million, then that would certainly give them some bragging rights.  However, as it turns out, 90,682,968 people voted in the 2010 midterm election.  When we do the math, this means that the Tea Party only received 9.3% of the votes from the "American People" who actually voted in the 2010 midterm election.

Any way you dice it, whether we're talking about the support of 2.8% of all Americans total, or the support of 9.3% of all Americans who voted in 2010, either number is BELOW 10% of the American People.  This means that the Tea Party's claim that they recieved a "mandate from the American People" in the 2010 election is both figuratively and mathematically complete bullshit.  They didn't even receive the support from 1 out of 10 Americans.  Literally. 

Taking a closer look at the 61 House Tea Party members, we see the following:
  • 18 of them are freshmen
  • 11 of them involved extremely close elections [EDITOR'S NOTE: interestingly, the people who barely survived these close elections are also the most popular names in the Tea Party, such as Bachmann (MN) (won 52.5% of the vote), Allen West (FL) (won 54.4% of the vote), and Joe Walsh (IL) (won 48.5% of the vote)
  • 40 of them were elected in districts that have been historically Republican over the past quarter century anyway (so it should come at no surprise that they got elected in these districts)
  • 21 of them likely would have lost had Black and Latino voters shown up at the polls (which lends some credence to the theory that "We didn't show up and vote")
  • 52.5% of all House Tea Party members are from Southern States (including, but not limited to, 11 from Texas, 7 from Florida, 5 from Louisiana, 4 from Georgia, and 4 from South Carolina)
Here at the Urban Politico, we like to put on our political scientist lab coats, gather all of the facts about a political situation like this one, lay them all out on the table and see if we can find any patterns.  One interesting pattern that we found hidden in the data is this:  the larger and more diverse a voting pool is, the less likely it is for the Tea Party members to win in states that do not traditionally vote Republican.  Conversely, the smaller and less diverse a voting pool is, the more likely it is for the Tea Party members to win in those same states.  Thus, the data seems to support the theory that (A) Tea Party popularity and (B) diversity of voters are inversely proportional to each other.
For example, Colorado went Blue back in 2008 and it also went Blue again for both its Gubernatorial race and it's Senatorial race during the recent 2010 midterm election.  All 3 of these elections represent situations where the entire state was allowed to weigh in on the vote.  But when you restrict the voting pool down to the size of a Congressional district, 2 Tea Party members were able to win in their own respective districts (Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn).
The same "Inverse Proportion Theory" holds true in California's 2010 midterm election where 4 Tea Party members were elected in very small, non-diverse districts that do not encompass major cities, but in the Senatorial and Gubernatorial elections during that same midterm, the state rejected the Tea Party and voted in a Democratic Senator (Barbara Boxer) and a Democratic Governor (Jerry Brown).  We see additional support for the "Inverse Proportion Theory" in the states of Maryland, Illinois, West Virginia and Minnesota.  
In states that are traditionally Red, then as you might imagine, when you open up the voting to the entire state it doesn't matter: they vote Republican state-wide as well as within the districts.  But in the aforementioned states, the opposite was true.

In short, the Tea Party did not receive the support of the majority (or even a plurality) of Americans during the 2010 midterm election.  Therefore, it is difficult to understand where exactly the Tea Party claims to find any support for the proposition that it received a clear "mandate from the American People" to implement it's agenda in Washington that has resulted in the nation spending an inordinate amount of time and energy on balancing the budget of the United States Government as opposed to working to reduce the unemployment rate of the American people.

As the American People have consistently made clear since the recession hit in 2008, it's all about jobs, jobs, jobs.  They could hardly care less about whether the federal government balances its own check book.   To the careful observer, the 2010 midterm election was not a referendum against big government spending, it was a referendum on unemployment.  To the extent that the Tea Party stubbornly holds on to the notion that the #1 problem facing America is the former and not the latter, it is critically misreading the "tea leaves" and could pay the price in 2012.

Prior to seeing these numbers, did you think that at least a majority of the American People voted for the Tea Party in 2010?
In light of the debt ceiling fiasco, is the Tea Party narrative starting to fall apart with the American People?  Is the romance over?
Is the romance between the media and Tea Party coming to an end?
Will the "Inverse Proportion Theory" cause problems for the Tea Party in the 2012 general election?
What are your thoughts on the Tea Party, its agenda, and its narrative regarding the mandate from the American People?

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