The Declining Status of White Americans and the Rise of the Tea Party

LOCATION: Knox Hall, Room 403

One controversial account of the rise of the Tea Party asserts that a series of political, economic, and demographic events and trends in late 2008 and early 2009 had the effect of threatening the racial status of white Americans, with resulting racial resentment fueling popular support for the Tea Party. Results of five survey-based experiments conducted on diverse samples of Americans offer support for this "decline of whiteness" account for popular Tea Party support, showing that political, economic, and demographic threats increase Tea Party support among white Americans, that these increases are due at least in part to heightened resentment of minorities, and this heightened support is greater where the Tea Party's racialized political positions are highlighted. A final experiment replicates these findings among a sample of white Tea Party supporters. Prospects for a "vertical group theory" of relations among racial and other status groups are discussed.

Robb Willer is a professor of sociology, psychology (by courtesy), and organizational behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford University. Previous to this, he was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley from 2006 to 2013. He received a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from Cornell University and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Iowa. Willer's research studies social forces that bring people together (e.g., morality, altruism), forces that divide them (e.g., fear, prejudice), and domains of social life that feature the complex interplay of the two (e.g., hierarchies, politics).