July 17, 2013


Older, anxious and white: why UKIP are the English Tea Party (MICHAEL SKEY 17 July 2013, OpenDemocracy)

[R]ecent research on both sides of the Atlantic points to some interesting similarities between the two parties, both, in terms of their supporters' attitudes and experiences and the impact they may be having on the wider political system, as a whole. Of particular interest, here, are anxieties around generational change and the extent to which debates about entitlement are often tied to questions of (national) belonging. 

In trying to compare the parties, the first feature of note is the type of supporters they attract; the vast majority are middle-aged or older and white, while men are more likely to be supporters than women. In the case of the Tea Party, 'nationwide surveys produce a consistent picture of Tea Party supporters... Between 55 and 60 percent of supporters are men; 80-90 percent are white; and 70-75 percent are over 45 years old' (Williamson, Skocpol & Coggin, 2011: 27). According to YouGov data, 85% of UKIP supporters are over 40 years old and 57% are men. Surprisingly, there is no official data on ethnicity, but it's generally agreed that most of their supporters are white.

Where supporters of the respective parties differ most is in terms of class. A report, based on research funded by the Toy peer, Lord Ashcroft, notes that, 'UKIP voters are ...more likely to be male and older, but more likely than average to be in social groups C2 and DE (and less in ABC1)'. Tea Party supporters, on the other hands, tend to be 'better off economically and better educated than most Americans' (Skocpol and Williamson, 2012: 23). What this actually means in practice is that while Tea Party supporters tend to be former Republican voters, UKIP draws it support from a wider ranger of voters, although, unsurprisingly, ex-Tories still dominate. As we will see, this feature may actually have a more profound impact on the British political landscape, given that both Labour and the Conservatives are required to address the rise of UKIP.

Elsewhere, a key feature of both parties rise to prominence has been the role of particular media sources that are not only seen to define key issues, and potential solutions, but also to foster a 'social protest identity' among disparate groups. For instance, political correctness, the idea that 'silent majority' are unable to say what they think for fear of offending minorities, has been one way that populist groups have managed to justify their activities and portray themselves as 'outcasts' and subject to the tyranny of 'liberal' elites. In the US, it has been radio shock jocks and Fox News that have filled this role, while in the UK, it is two newspapers, The Sun and Daily Mail, that offer their readers (including 70% of UKIP supporters) a steady diet of anti-immigration and EU rhetoric.

In terms of policy-making, much has been made of both parties combination of social conservatism and economic liberalism and the extent to which their policies primarily focus on cutting back state spending (with the exception of defence) and reducing the role of government, notably when it comes to environmental and equal opportunities legislation. Of course, there are differences both between, and within, the parties when it comes to the radicalism of their proposals, notably when it comes to welfare. Notable here is the degree to which supporters of both parties choose quite carefully the types of social spending they want to be cut. In the case of UKIP, the NHS, which still has broad-based and popular support among the British electorate, is often excluded from cost-cutting pledges. Likewise, in the US, Tea Party supporters make a distinction between welfare that benefits people like them (for instance, Medicaid and Social Security) and programmes that are seen to support less desirable groups.

Posted by at July 17, 2013 5:26 AM

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