Party in the Street: A Tale of Three Movements
By Bryan Caplan
Heaney and Rojas close Party in the Street by comparing the antiwar movement to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. This naturally required even more original data collection. What they found:
[T]he antiwar-Democratic relationship is an intermediate case among these three party-movement pairs. The antiwar movement was more closely connected with the Democratic Party than was the Occupy movement, but it was considerably less bonded than were the Tea Party and the Republican Party. Thus, we believe that it is reasonable to conclude that our conception of the party in the street extends beyond the antiwar-Democratic case…
When compared with the Tea Party and Occupy movements, the antiwar movement had an intermediate degree of overlap with its closest major-party ally. At the peak of party-movement synergy after the 2006 congressional midterm elections, slightly more than 50 percent of antiwar activists identified as members of the Democratic Party (see Figure 4.3). The results of our interviews with Tea Party and Occupy activists reveal that the Tea Party had a somewhat higher level of partisan fidelity (58 percent), while Occupy had a
lower level of fidelity (30 percent). The antiwar movement differed notably from Occupy in that the antiwar movement embraced lobbying and electoral involvement, whereas Occupy did not. The antiwar movement could be considered to be roughly on par with – if not superior to – the Tea Party movement with respect to lobbying and legislative work. The Tea Party and antiwar movements both sparked the creation of legislative caucuses, sponsored grassroots lobby days, hired professional lobbyists, and championed signature legislation (which mostly failed to become law). In the electoral arena, the antiwar movement and the Tea Party can each reasonably claim to have helped to swing the balance of power in one congressional election (2006 for the antiwar movement and 2010 for the Tea Party movement).
The Tea Party was unambiguously more aggressive than the antiwar movement in sponsoring candidates and attempting to influence party primaries. There are several notable cases of antiwar-movement-inspired candidates – Ned Lamont’s attempt to unseat incumbent Democrat Joe Lieberman in the 2006 U.S. Senate election in Connecticut (Pirch 2008), Cindy Sheehan’s bid to defeat Democrat Nancy Pelosi in the 2008 election for California’s 12th district of the U.S. House of Representatives (Ewers 2008), and various antiwar candidates who sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 2004 and 2008 (e.g., Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama). Yet, antiwar electoral efforts do not compare to the pervasive attempt by the Tea Party to remake the Republican Party through the primary process. Tea Party-affiliated organizations endorsed at least 201 Republican candidates in the 2010 Republican primaries, of whom 74 percent were nonincumbents (Bailey, Mummolo, and Noel 2012, p. 773). Tea Party organizations made across-the-board moves to become players in the Republican Party in ways that the antiwar movement never did in the Democratic Party.
The generality of the protest cycle:
The protest cycle of the antiwar movement (see Chapter 2) bore some similarity to the protest cycle of the Tea Party. Both the antiwar movement and the Tea Party saw grassroots participation in their causes plummet after congressional elections that appeared to respond to their concerns. In both cases, the removal of a partisan threat served to pacify the movements. Antiwar protests, however, persisted somewhat longer than did Tea Party protests. While the Tea Party grass roots were appeased by a congressional victory alone, antiwar protests did not abate fully until a Democrat was elected president. We can only speculate as to the reasons for this difference. It could be the antiwar movement was fixated on President Bush – as the commander in chief of the armed forces – while the Tea Party was more content to stop the progress of new legislation, which was closer to their substantive grievances (on taxes, spending, debt, and health care). The Occupy movement, on the other hand, appears to have had little correspondence with partisan rhythms. The mobilization of the antiwar movement post 2008 somewhat resembles Occupy. This correspondence may result from a rise in antipartisanship in the antiwar movement after 2008 (see Figure 4.3), which placed the antiwar and Occupy movements on par with respect to this factor.
The evolution of the antiwar movement similarly follows an intermediate path when compared to Occupy and the Tea Party. If we were to regenerate Figure 7.5 to include party-movement associations for the antiwar movement and the Democratic Party from January 2003 through December 2006, we would find that the antiwar movement tracked the Tea Party in the early months of its existence but then followed the Occupy movement as the movement evolved beyond its first year.12 As is the case for the Tea Party and Occupy, antiwar-Democratic associations trended upward in the first year of the movement. After thirteen and fourteen months, antiwar-Democrat associations in newspaper articles rose to an average of 60 percent, matching Tea Party levels at that stage of the movement and far surpassing the highest threshold reached by the Occupy movement. Nevertheless, antiwar-Democratic associations settled into an average of about 28 percent in the second through fourth years. This level was below the rate of Tea Party-Republican association, but above the rate of Occupy-Democratic association.
Heaney and Rojas never cite Robin Hanson, but Party in the Street is definitely a Hansonian book. They could easily have titled their conclusion “Politics is not about policy.” Indeed, they could have titled the whole book “Movements are not about moving.”
P.S. I’ll be away the rest of the week, attending GenCon in beautiful Indianapolis. If you see Team Caplan there, please say hi. 🙂