Cool Research – Tea Party Rallies Had a Very Big Impact on Politics

So all of those Tea Party rallies . . . were they just a bunch of yahoos talking to themselves about the Constitution, or did they actually have an impact? Turns out, the rallies had a pretty impressive impact on the 2010 elections and how Congressional members vote, according to a (very cool) paper from American Enterprise Institute researchers Andreas Madestam, Daniel Shoag, Stan Veuger, and David Yanagizawa-Drott.

But how do they know? I’m always chanting “experiments, experiments, experiments,” but it’s pretty difficult to randomly assign political rally turnout. Not impossible, but very difficult. You’d have to get creative and have a lot of trust from the orgs running things.

The researchers find a clever way around the problem of observational data and causal inference; fewer people turn out to political protests when it rains. And if you have enough rainfall spread over the country, then you have a very nice “exogenous” variable that is changing turnout at the rallies.

Essentially, dear old Mother Nature has randomly assigned different levels of turnout to various Tea Party rallies, and you can analyze the impact of bigger and smaller turnout, independent of “endogenous” variables that drive bigger rallies, like having a more conservative and motivated local population in the first place.

This paper is very, very interesting and worth a closer look. But here are the highlights. The researchers conclude that having a Tea Party protest on Tax Day, April 15, in 2009 increased the number of Republican votes in that area for the 2010 midterm elections and caused their representatives to vote more conservatively.

In fact, they estimate that the protests led to an additional:

  • 25,000 to 46,000 local Tea Party organizers

  • 170,000 to 310,000 protesters on Tax Day 2010
  • $840,000 to $1.54 million in donations to Our Country Deserves Better PAC
  • 3.2 to 5.8 million votes in the 2010 House elections

The rallies also:

  • Increased the likelihood that incumbent Democratic representatives decided to retire prior to the elections

  • Caused Congressmen to vote more conservatively in Congress
  • Effects were driven by a persistent increase in the movement’s strength
  • Led to more grassroots organizing, to larger subsequent protests and monetary contributions, and to stronger conservative beliefs
  • Had significant multiplier effects: for every protester, Republican votes increased by seven to fourteen votes.

That, my friends, is a pretty stunning impact. This bit is worth quoting in full:

Our results suggest that political activism does not derive its usefulness solely from the provision of information or its consumption value, but that the interactions produced at rallies and protests can affect citizens’ social contexts in ways such that a movement for political change persists autonomously. This confirms the importance of social dynamics in networks of citizens for the realization of political change, and seems of relevance not only in the context of representative democracies, but also at the onset of revolutionary movements.

I think this research raises some interesting additional questions. For instance, can a message that references a political protest affect a voter’s opinions? Do candidates win more votes by highlighting political protests in their favor? How can the impact of these rallies be leveraged to even greater effect?

  1. michael kelley

    How about this strategy?

    We run a Progressive candidate for President, discard the Tea Party and get our butts kicked in the election?

    Yes, that’s the ticket.

  2. 6foot2inhighheels

    This is very encouraging, and couldn’t come at a better time.  

  3. BrentB67
    michael kelley: How about this strategy?

    We run a Progressive candidate for President, discard the Tea Party and get our butts kicked in the election?

    Yes, that’s the ticket. · 1 hour ago

    Worked like a charm.

  4. SEnkey

    I liked Romney, he was a good man, with a good plan for governance, and a great running mate. The country picked the wrong team. That says a lot more about our culture than about our party.  If as a conservative block we didn’t pick a more conservative candidate, maybe it’s time we got more involved with the rest of our party so the next go round we do pick “the conservative candidate.” 

    IMPoliteO the “our candidate wasn’t conservative enough” line is just republicans not wanting to own up that something is rotten in Denmark. As a movement we need to stop allowing liberal and middle road Republicans to describe themselves as conservatives. I think the best way to do that is by not demonizing non conservative Republicans. When they feel they can say, hey I’m a liberal Republican or Middleroad Republican, they will stop giving conservatives a bad name. (I’m looking at you John McCain and the list goes on) Once we can more easily identify conservatives in the party, it will be easier to pick and galvanize around one. 

  5. SEnkey

    BTW I am extremely conservative, I just think that blaming Romney, worse than getting us no where, stops us from producing solutions.  I am grateful that he was willing to run, something many “true conservatives” were not willing to do against Barack Obama, and BTW he did better than I expected.  I guess I never had much hope against the throngs of ignorant voters supporting the “anointed one.”

  6. Palaeologus

    This is interesting stuff, Adam.

    I wonder what impact, if any, the OWS cretins had.