The Tea Party: “More Paul than Santorum”

David Kirby and Emily Ekins write in Politico:

The Republican National Convention this week announced speaking slots for libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and social conservative Rick Santorum. Both claim the “tea party” brand. However the 2012 primary season reveals that the tea party playbook is more Paul than Santorum.

Conventional political wisdom for at least two decades has held that Republican primaries are won by emphasizing values issues to placate socially conservative voters. Observers point to Santorum’s strong showing in the presidential primaries. Exit polls, however, reveal Santorum never won a majority of the tea party vote in any primary.

Republican candidates must increasingly win over both Paul and tea party supporters on economic issues. Libertarians and the tea party movement are intertwined in ways the campaigns and the media have yet to fully appreciate.

Tea party supporters are actually united on economics, but split on social issues, we find, compiling data from local and national polls with dozens of original interviews with tea party members and leaders. Roughly half the tea party is socially conservative, half libertarian: fiscally conservative, but socially moderate to liberal.

Libertarians led the way for tea party disaffection with establishment Republicans. Starting in early 2008 through the early tea parties, libertarians were more than twice as “angry” with the Republican Party as social conservatives; more pessimistic about the economy and deficit during the Bush years, and more frustrated that people like them cannot affect government. Libertarians, including young people who supported Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, provided much of the early energy for the tea party and spread the word through social media.

In fact, 91 percent of tea party libertarians are more concerned about taxes and jobs than gay marriage and abortion, according to a New York Times poll. Religious bona fides will not win the tea party vote in primaries. The tea party’s strong libertarian roots help explain why more and more Republican candidates are running as functional libertarians—emphasizing fiscal issues such as spending, tax reform and ending bailouts, while avoiding subjects like abortion and gay marriage—and winning…

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