The Not-So-White Tea Party

USA Today is out with a new poll on Tea Party supporters. Near the top of both the article and the accompanying graphic is this point, also singled out by Howard Kurtz in his Washington Post report on the study:

They are overwhelmingly white and Anglo,

Not too surprising, perhaps. Economic conservatives, we hear, are more white than the national average. But wait — here’s the rest of Kurtz’s sentence:

although a scattering of Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans combine to make up almost one-fourth of their ranks.

“Almost one-fourth of their ranks” is “a scattering”? Sounds like a pretty good chunk to me, especially in a country that is after all still mostly white. Let’s go to the tape. The data-filled graphic says that 77 percent of Tea Party supporters are “non-Hispanic whites.” And this 2008 Census report says that the United States as a whole is 65 percent non-Hispanic white. So the Tea Party is indeed somewhat more “white” than the country at large, but not by that much. Twelve points above the national average is not “overwhelmingly white,” and 23 percent Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans is not “a scattering.” At a rough estimate, it represents about 14 million non-Anglo Americans who support the Tea Party movement.

How does this compare to the demographics of other movements? Strangely enough, I can’t find any real data on the demographics of the enviromental movement. Maybe pollsters and mainstream journalists don’t want to know. But here’s a report that 84 percent of the visitors to the Sierra Club website are Caucasian. Similar implication here. And here’s a story on the environmentalist movement’s desperate attempt to seem not so “overwhelmingly white.” Yet somehow journalists don’t focus on that obvious fact about the environmentalist movement.

Instead, they keep describing the Tea Party movement as “overwhelmingly white,” even when the data suggest a different conclusion.