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Reading the Tea Leaves: Understanding Tea Party Caucus Membership in the US House of Representatives

Bryan T. Gervaisa1 and Irwin L. Morrisa2

a1 University of Maryland

a2 University of Maryland

Abstract

In the summer of 2010, 52 Republican members of the US House of Representatives joined the newly formed Tea Party Caucus, bringing the first institutional voice to the Tea Party movement. To understand both the policy orientations of the organized Tea Party (in its caucus manifestation) and the institutional strength of the caucus's membership, we assess the extent to which caucus members are distinctive from their fellow Republicans in the US House of Representatives. Our results suggest that membership in the caucus is primarily driven by ideology and economics. Specifically, we find that Tea Party Caucus members are Republicans who are ideologically oriented toward limited government and lower taxes and who hail from particularly prosperous congressional districts. We find no evidence that Tea Party Caucus members serve safer districts or have greater seniority or institutional stature than their Republican colleagues who are not members of the caucus. These findings, we believe, speak not only to the nature and orientations of the Tea Party Caucus, but to the wider Tea Party movement itself.

Bryan T. Gervais is a PhD candidate in government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. His dissertation focuses on the effects of incivility on political discourse. He can be reached at bgervais@umd.edu.

Irwin L. Morris is professor of government and politics and director of graduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. He can be reached at imorris@umd.edu.

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