Signs of an Emerging Tea Party Problem with Evangelicals

It’s only May, but one emerging theme in the 2014 campaign is the decline in influence of the group/movement/loose confederation in American politics known at the Tea Party. Candidates associated with the Tea Party have yet to knock off an establishment Republican this primary season.

A closer look at Tuesday’s results using the 15 county types in the American Communities Project shows where the Tea Party may be running into trouble. A crucial piece of the Republican vote, the evangelical bloc, seems like it’s not giving Tea Party candidates any boost thus far in 2014.

As recently as 2011, they were seen as an important part of the Tea Party’s coalition.

Consider Kentucky’s Tuesday night results. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won his primary challenge against Tea Party opponent Matt Bevin handily. Mr. McConnell won with 60.1% of the vote statewide versus Mr. Bevin’s 35.4%. And in the 55 Evangelical Hub counties in Kentucky, the numbers were almost exactly the same: 60.1% for Mr. McConnell and 35.0% for Mr. Bevin. Those Evangelical Hub counties are in purple below.

The numbers were similar in Georgia. There, in a crowded primary field, the two establishment GOP candidates, businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston, qualified for a run-off to determine the nominee. Together the two won 56.4% statewide. Again in the 23 Evangelical Hubs in Georgia, those establishment candidates did just as well – in fact, slightly better with a total of 57.3%. Again those counties are in purple below.

These numbers follow a trend ACP Director Dante Chinni noted on the Wall Street Journal’s site after the recent North Carolina Senate Primary, where establishment candidate Thom Tillis easily vanquished his Tea Party opposition. The primary wins for the GOP establishment are coming with considerable vote tallies from counties with big evangelical populations.

Were there bright spots for the Tea Party in Tuesday’s results? It looks as though the group still does better in the Exurbs (in yellow on the maps above) than elsewhere. In both Kentucky and Georgia, the opposition candidates did better in the Exurbs than they did elsewhere.

In Kentucky, Mr. McConnell only won 53% of the vote in the ACP’s Exurb counties; seven points lower than he did statewide. In Georgia, Messrs. Perdue and Kingston, only garnered 50% of the vote in the Exurbs – six points lower. The numbers suggest there is some resistance to the GOP establishment in those places.

But not enough. In both states, better wasn’t good enough to win for the Tea Party. Tea Party candidates picked off a few Exurbs, but they did not win that county type in either state.

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