Understanding the Tea Party Response to Local Environmental Initiatives: A Conflict Between Individualism and Collectivism

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Virginia Tech


The Tea Party movement became a significant political force in American politics in 2009. Soon after their arrival on the national scale, this movement turned its attention to environmental policymaking. In particular, it spurred a strong opposition to local sustainable development initiatives. While this conflict has run its course in most places, it remains an example of the type of opposition future environmental or sustainability work may face. This three-part study is focused on determining the extent and nature of this opposition with particular emphasis on how it reflected the broader conflict between individualism and collectivism. First, we analyzed general interest in the topics associated with the opposition using media interest and internet search trends. Next, we evaluated what was driving this opposition through rhetoric analysis of local Tea Party organizations from across the country. This helped uncover several of the predominant themes in the opposition, including a belief in American Exceptionalism, concern over our system of Governance and a strong preference for individualism. Lastly, we conducted a case study of the conflict in Roanoke, VA. This allowed us to map out the specifics of one segment of the broader conflict and explore the driving themes further. The results of all three parts point to a substantial, but diffuse, opposition that was driven in no small part by a preference for individualism. This work demonstrates that individualism can be used as a lens through which a fuller understanding of this, and future, opposition of environmental legislation may be generated.



Tea Party, sustainable development, individualism, collectivism, Agenda 21