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October 11, 2013

How the IRS Helped Break the Tea Party Fever

This may be old news to many of you, but a study the Editorial Staff missed earlier this summer quantifies the Tea Party's effectiveness at getting out the Republican vote:

It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous "shellacking" in the 2010 mid-term election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered-and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been de-mobilized by the IRS.

In a new research paper, Andreas Madestam (from Stockholm University), Daniel Shoag and David Yanagizawa-Drott (both from the Harvard Kennedy School), and I set out to find out how much impact the Tea Party had on voter turnout in the 2010 election. We compared areas with high levels of Tea Party activity to otherwise similar areas with low levels of Tea Party activity, using data from the Census Bureau, the FEC, news reports, and a variety of other sources. We found that the effect was huge: the movement brought the Republican Party some 3-6 million additional votes in House races. That is an astonishing boost, given that all Republican House candidates combined received fewer than 45 million votes. It demonstrates conclusively how important the party's newly energized base was to its landslide victory in those elections, and how worried Democratic strategists must have been about the conservative movement's momentum.

The Tea Party movement's huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.

The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes-more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5 - 8.5 million votes compared to Obama's victory margin of 5 million.

President Obama's margin of victory in some of the key swing states was fairly small: a mere 75,000 votes separated the two contenders in Florida, for example. That is less than 25% of our estimate of what the Tea Party's impact in Florida was in 2010. Looking forward to 2012 in 2010 undermining the Tea Party's efforts there must have seemed quite appealing indeed.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election. In March 2010, the IRS decided to single Tea Party groups out for special treatment when applying for tax-exempt status by flagging organizations with names containing "Tea Party," "patriot," or "9/12." For the next two years, the IRS approved the applications of only four such groups, delaying all others while subjecting the applicants to highly intrusive, intimidating requests for information regarding their activities, membership, contacts, Facebook posts, and private thoughts.

As a consequence, the founders, members, and donors of new Tea Party groups found themselves incapable of exercising their constitutional rights, and the Tea Party's impact was muted in the 2012 election cycle. As Toby Marie Walker, who runs the Waco Tea Party, which filed for tax-exempt status in 2010 but didn't receive approval until two months ago, recounted recently: "Our donors dried up. It was intimidating and time-consuming." The Richmond Tea Party went through a similar ordeal, and was only granted tax-exempt status in December, right after the election--three years after its initial request. Its chairman explained the consequences: the episode cost the Richmond Tea Party $17,000 in legal fees and swallowed time the all-volunteer network would have devoted to voter turnout, outreach in black and Latino neighborhoods and other events to highlight the constitution and "the concept of liberty."

Kind of puts a different spin on the media's "What happened to all those Tea Partiers?" gloating, doesn't it?

Posted by Cassandra at October 11, 2013 06:04 AM

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Let's see if any of our MSM types actually report this study.I would not hold your breath. This is real voter suppression (using federal employees no less) as opposed to all the bogus hot air surrounding voter ID laws, but it won't be reported and as for our "Justice" Department taking any action....

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at October 11, 2013 09:46 AM

Don't worry. They'll be all over it... after the next election.

Assuming a Democrat wins. :p

Posted by: Cass at October 11, 2013 01:01 PM

No, they'll only be all over it if a Rethuglican wins...and they'll drag out the two or three *other* aligned groups as their star attractions. The hue and cry will be so loud that any mentions of those who were really oppressed will buckle under the weight of the noise.
Not that we've ever seen this play out before.

Posted by: DL Sly at October 11, 2013 02:18 PM

Your comments about all men or all women reminded me of a study I ran across years ago that looked at reactions to baby pictures.

As you probably know, our pupils dilate when we something we think is interesting or attractive. When women were shown pictures of babies, 80 percent had that involuntary reaction. When men were shown the same pictures, 20 percent did.

(I don't recall the specific group studied. Most likely it was American college students, who are, for psychologists, their third favorite lab animal, after mice and rats.)

So, in neither case would "all" have been correct.

Posted by: Jim Miller at October 12, 2013 11:08 AM


My Dad, a 6'4" retired Navy Captain with a deep bass voice, would be one of those 20% of men :)

Few things delight him more than seeing a really cute baby or toddler. I can remember him pointing them out to my mother when I was a little girl, and he still does that today :)

My husband is kind of taciturn most of the time, but I often catch him smiling at a baby or small child.

Posted by: Cass at October 12, 2013 11:48 AM

It does depend upon which end of the baby one is looking at. ;-)

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at October 13, 2013 09:05 AM


Posted by: DL Sly at October 13, 2013 02:54 PM