The 2010 midterm elections were supposed to mark the triumphant arrival of the Tea Party as a grassroots electoral force. But according to a new analysis by two MIT political scientists, the movement's impact may actually be greatly overstated.
The Tea Party, Stephen Ansolabehere and James M. Snyder Jr. write, "reputedly broadened the appeal of the Republican Party beyond its usual base, siphoning from the Democrats many middle- and even working-class Americans."
But when Ansolabehere and Snyder looked to measure the "Tea Party effect" empirically, they found only a negligible impact.
Writing in Boston Review, Ansolabehere and Snyder argue that Republican House candidates with Tea Party backing performed almost exactly as well as GOP candidates that lacked the support of Tea Party groups.
Both groups of Republicans were successful. But that was because they were Republicans in a year when Democrats were on the defensive, Ansolabehere and Snyder argue — not because the Tea Party brought in in any measurable level of extra support.
"A Tea Party endorsement actually didn’t matter all that much," the wrote. "In an election year that favored Republican politicians because of the prolonged economic recession and stubbornly high unemployment, Republican politicians did about as well as one would expect."
And in Senate races, Ansolabehere and Snyder found that Tea Party-backed Republicans actually did worse than other Republicans — though to be fair, that average was probably dragged down single-handedly by Christine O'Donnell's drubbing in Delaware.