Because a plurality of Americans sympathize with the economic conservatism goals of the movement, it is tempting to view it as less-structured but traditional mass-based political party that shapes the party’s leadership, responds to its appeals, and uses cues like party labels to make voting decisions. But it’s not; instead, it is an almost-totally decentralized regime rather than a formal organization whose very leaderless nature creates fluidity in deployment of mainly volunteer-based resources. In other words, it’s a number of like-minded people whose primary response to political stimuli is based not upon acquisition of power in order govern, but instead to evaluate candidates on the basis of issue preferences and to vote accordingly.
As such, preferences of economic conservatism such as reduced government spending and regulation with the commensurate reduction in its power over people’s lives, smaller deficit spending, holding the line on if not rolling back taxation and, overall, the sense that government has become too intrusive in dealing with people’s property rights drives their decision-making, not whether supporting a certain candidate maximizes their chances at governing and thereby increases their chances of receiving rewards bestowed by government. Understanding this is the key to realizing why it will not be a distinctive force in Lousiana’s state and local elections.
In order for the movement to coalesce, sharp ideological conflict had to illuminate the differences in issue preferences between the movement joiners and the power structure in government. That happened with the election of Democrat Pres. Barack Obama and an increased Democrat congressional majority. Obama ran a brilliant campaign designed to obscure his real agenda and to prompt himself to be viewed as an empty vessel into which voters could pour their best intentions and optimism about what they hoped he would do. But the hard leftism of his actual beliefs and their consequences quickly became apparent after he took power, aided by a Congress that now could legislate without consequence lacking any more a Republican president that could rein in its excesses.
In a matter of months and since, national Democrats’ agenda has become entirely exposed as fundamentally at odds with the beliefs of a majority of Americans. The swing to the extreme left sensitized and activated those who would join the TEA Party phenomenon and its energetic opposition to big government emanating from Washington, DC.
However, in Louisiana, few similar situations have manifested themselves. At the state level, at stake Saturday is perhaps the least ideological office and the one that has the least to do with government involvement in people’s lives, the lieutenant governor’s. There’s a contest for the obscure Public Service Commission and a number of judicial contests which by their nature tend to turn far more on personality than on issues. The kind of spark that activated the phenomenon for national office candidates barely exists in this environment.
Local contests, for municipalities and school boards, promise more potential for issues mainly pocketbook in nature to be relevant and for conflict between competing visions of how much latitude people should have in making decisions about what they earn and spend, but this often will be muted. Besides a sharp contrast in economic and property issues, the other precondition for TEA Party influence would be for its identifiers to make up a significant portion of the electorate in a jurisdiction. But because as we get to smaller and smaller jurisdictions, heterogeneity within them begins to disappear to create situations where TEA Party influence either is insignificant to the process or whose attitudes already are shared by a dominant majority of the electorate.
For example, in Shreveport the distribution of issue preferences among the public means, given the large Democratic registration and majority black registrants among the city’s voters, TEA Party sympathies are unlikely to determine who will win the mayor’s race. This dynamic increases in validity when considering some city council contests with similar demographics. However, there are others where influence might be wielded, where Republicans are expected to win.
Even so, the impact likely is to be slight. As the level of contest gets lower, economic issues in particular and ideology in general becomes diluted by more personalistic kinds of factors in making voting decisions. Organizational resources besides volunteer activism also become magnified in importance and traditional party or candidate organizations look much more like the overall TEA Party model at this level, negating any advantage that might convey.
In summation, for TEA Party influence to shape election contests, there must be clear ideological differences on economic issues and on amount of government power among candidates for that kind of office and the TEA Party adherents themselves must represent a critical mass within the jurisdiction without being part of a larger, overall dominant political culture in it. These are the case in federal elections in Louisiana, and are why Republicans are going to win every federal office in this election cycle with the probable exception of the Second Congressional District precisely because that district’s characteristics make it difficult to achieve the critical mass standard.
However, these conditions are present in almost no state contests and not often in local races on this ballot. This does not mean that TEA Party sympathies cannot substantially shape these kinds of elections – 2013 city elections in Bossier City, after many years of the city’s poor prioritization of spending led it to a 2009 budget meltdown, should produce a great test case – but that this time out in the main it should not be expected.