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"Redistribute My Work Ethic": Does the Tea Party Oppose All Spending or Just Redistribution?

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Despite the outcry among Tea Party activists for reigning in the national debt, the recent Project Vote poll shows a general trend of less support for spending cuts or other defecit-reduction strategies among this group of voters.

The toplines from this survey of 2008 voters compared responses for the nationally-representative sample with a sub-sample who expressed agreement with the Tea Party movement. This Tea Party sub-sample expressed less support for cutting spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (31% vs. 51% overall) or on tax breaks to the oil and gas industry for exploration (51% vs. 62% overall). Similarly, Tea Party supporters were less likely to favor defecit-reduction strategies such as requiring wealthier Americans to pay more in taxes on profits from their investment (29% favored versus 58% of public) or increasing the Social Security payroll tax (39% favored versus 55% overall).

Yet, there were a few exceptions to this trend. Tea Party supporters were more likely to support spending cuts for two programs: (1) income security programs for less off Americans like food stamps (62% opted to spend less compared with 38% overall) and (2) state spending on public education (26% endorsed cutting spending with only 11% overall). And Tea Partyers were more likely to endorse the repeal of health care reform (70%, compared with 48% favoring repeal among the full sample).

These findings challenge the notion that defecit reduction is the number one priority of the Tea Party. Instead, it seems that their support for spending cuts rests more on an opposition to redistributive, safety-net programs as personified in a sign held up at a Tea Party rally that cried out: "Redistribute my work ethic." Understanding these underlying views are likely to provide more insight into the Tea Party movement than focusing on the deficit trope the Tea Party continues to emphasize.

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