Tag Archives: Theda Skocpol

If Wishing Could Make It So

I hope this column from The Guardian isn’t a case of “whistling Dixie” as the old saying goes.

Titled “The Republican Party is about to face the wrath of women,” the writer suggests that the anger I’ve expressed over the GOP’s behavior in the Kavanaugh hearings is both a lot more widespread than many think–and not limited to the behavior of those involved in these hearings.

Even the dimmest and most misogynist of Republican operatives must realize, by this point, that the supreme court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and the handling of the sexual assault allegations against him will hurt their chances, especially with women voters, in the upcoming midterm elections.

What they don’t seem to realize, though, is that huge numbers of women aren’t just mad – they’re organized and mobilized politically in a way we’ve never quite seen before. The key story of the midterms is the large number of progressive women – and to a lesser extent, progressive men – who have been taking on the crucial, unglamorous work that swings elections: registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, preparing to get people to the polls. The disdain for women that the Republicans have shown by continuing to rally behind Kavanaugh is only energizing them further.

The author cites some impressive evidence for those assertions. Beginning with the millions of Americans who joined the Women’s Marches following Trump’s election, the author describes a “multi-issue, women-led upsurge of political engagement on an unprecedented scale.”

Nearly 25,000 protests have taken place since Trump’s inauguration, involving somewhere between 14 and 21 million Americans. These figures greatly exceed levels of protest participation at any prior time in US history, even the height of the Vietnam war. And no matter the issue or focus of the demonstrations, women have consistently been the majority of those taking to the streets. (Emphasis added.)

Protests, without more, change nothing. So it is both impressive and gratifying to see the level of grass-roots activism that has accompanied those marches. Women, especially, have built what the author calls “a powerful electoral ground game.”

Substantial mobilizing for the midterms is being done through the vast array of local grassroots groups that formed after Trump took office, including the 5,000 groups affiliated with Indivisible. Like the resistance to Trump more generally, these groups are typically women-led and have already played a key role in a series of progressive electoral upsets, including Doug Jones’s Senate victory in Alabama last December to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s highly publicized primary win this past June. Their autonomy from the Democratic party gives much of their work an under-the-radar quality that can obscure their impact.

Theda Skocpol is an eminent political scientist who has investigated the resistance–the anti-Trump phenomenon that is reflected in the 5,000 groups cited in the Guardian column.

Skocpol, the longtime government and sociology professor at Harvard University, has been making research trips to eight counties that went for Donald Trump in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as communities across all of Pennsylvania. In suburban America, even in uber-conservative counties, Skocpol began to notice action groups popping up in response to Trump. And she began to notice who was doing the organizing, here in the heart of what the national media have taken to calling Trump Country: women. Specifically older, college-educated white women: “retired teachers, librarians, health care people, some businesswomen,” as Skocpol put it.

Exit polling tells us that 52 percent of white female voters went for Trump in 2016 (something I still can’t get my head around….)

Skocpol acknowledges this, but her research suggests that the political behaviors of these white women have shifted radically in the wake of the election. They are calling on Congress, knocking on doors on behalf of state and local candidates, and in some cases, running for office themselves. “Sociologically, what we are witnessing is an inflection point — a shift in long-standing trends — concentrated in one large demographic group, as college-educated women have ramped up their political participation en masse,” she wrote in a recent essay co-authored with Lara Putnam.

Skocpol’s observations certainly mesh with the enormous upsurge in women’s political activity that I’ve seen in Indiana. But the proof of the pudding–to use another old-fashioned saying–will come when the votes get counted.

I’m not hoping for a wave–I’m hoping for a tsunami. And I’m alternately terrified by the thought that we might not get either one.



Tea and Very Little Sympathy

Ever since the emergence of the Tea Party–with its intransigence, ideological rigidity and hostility–there has been a robust debate about who they are, what they want, and whether they are a genuine grass-roots movement or the product of some canny (and wealthy) Republican operatives. Other than poll results, however, there has been very little empirical research informing that debate.

That has changed. In a recent issue of “Perspectives on Politics,” a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Political Science Association, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin published “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” I don’t know Williamson or Coggin, but Theda Skocpol is a widely-respected Harvard Professor who–among other things–has served as the President of the American Political Science Association.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights:

  • The Tea Party is a new incarnation of “long-standing strands” in American conservatism.
  • Tea Party opposition to the Affordable Care Act is not a manifestation of hostility to social programs per se; the opposition is based upon resentment of “perceived government handouts to “undeserving” people. (Tea partiers see themselves as entitled to Social Security and Medicare.) Their definition of “undeserving” “seems heavily influenced by racial and ethnic stereotypes.”
  • The Tea Party owes its emergence not only to the Republican elites that initially bankrolled it, but to Fox News. The authors believe that “the best way to understand Fox News’ role is as a national advocacy organization actively fostering a social protest identity.” (63% of Tea Party members watch Fox, as opposed to 11% of the general population.)
  • Tea Party members are a very small minority of Americans. Only one in five of those who claim to be members have actually attended an event or donated money. Members are older, white and middle-class, and a majority are men. The vast majority are conservative Republicans.

There is much more, but the central finding (in my opinion, at least) was that at the grassroots level, Tea Partiers judge social programs “not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients.” It will not come as a shock to most of us that deservingness is “an implicit cultural category.” Hence the hysteria over immigration (the study finds–surprise!–that “fears of immigration are closely linked to the ethnic identity of the immigrants in question”). Support for the Tea Party “remains a valid predictor of racial resentment” even after controlling for ideology and partisanship, and this finding goes a long way toward explaining what seems to most of us as an irrational hatred of Obama. As the authors put it, “At a fundamental level, Obama’s policies and his person are not within the Tea Party conception of America, so his election seems like a threat to what they understand as their country.”

And they want “their” country back.