University of Missouri - Saint Louis

The Graduate School


An oral examination in defense of the dissertation for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science

Bryce Don Summary
M.A. in Political Science, December, 2010, University of Missouri-St. Louis
B.A. in Political Science, May, 2005, Eastern Illinois University

Reading the Tea Leaves: An Exploration of the Origins, Composition, and Influence of the Tea Party



The Tea Party has become a powerful force in American politics. Emerging in late 2008, early 2009, the Tea Party has elicited mass support among the public with important implications for public policy and electoral politics. However, there remains significant debate over the political characteristics and motivations of Tea Party supporters. The emergence of the Tea Party has also led to speculation that supporters will form a third party. Using survey data collected in 2010 and 2011, this dissertation examines the relationship between Tea Party and third party supporters. Evidence is found that although Tea Party and third party supporters disapprove of President Obama and hold negative views of the economy, the two groups are fundamentally different in terms of their partisanship and political attitudes. Tea Party supporters are found to be ideologically conservative Republicans, while third party supporters are shown to be political independents holding negative opinions of both parties. Using American National Election Studies data, this dissertation also explains the motivations behind Tea Party support. Evidence is found that Tea Party support is motivated by traditional moral values, racial resentment, negative views of President Obama, negative opinions of immigrants, and libertarianism. This dissertation also examines the emotional component of Tea Party support finding that strong feelings of anger and fear, related to perceptions of the state of the country, motivates support. Finally, this dissertation analyzes an aggregation of public opinion data measuring opinions of the Tea Party from 2010 to 2011. Support for the Tea Party is found to have declined from 2010 through the end of 2011, with the most precipitous decline occurring among its most ardent supporters. Ultimately, the findings of this dissertation suggest that the emergence of the Tea Party has created a rift within the Republican Party between the moderate and ideologically extreme elements, constituting a barrier to legislative compromise.


Date: July 19, 2013

Time: 3:30

Place: 344 SSB


Defense of Dissertation Committee


David Kimball, Ph.D. (Advisor)

E. Terrence Jones, Ph.D.


David Robertson, Ph.D.

Nancy Kinney, Ph.D.