Politics and Public Opinion, Elections, Pethokoukis

Did the IRS’s Tea Party suppression get Obama reelected?

Image credit: Ragesoss (Flickr) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image credit: Ragesoss (Flickr) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Some assumptions:

1. Let’s say Tea Party groups had continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010.

2. And let’s further say that their impact on the 2012 vote would have been similar to that seen in 2010. A new paper co-authored by AEI’s Stan Veuger estimates the grass-roots movement generated 3 million to 6 million additional Republican votes in House races in the midterms.

3. The 2012 result would have seen as many as 5 million to 8.5 million additional GOP votes versus a President Obama victory margin of 5 million votes. And right around now, Mitt Romney would be pushing hard to implement his tax reform plan, and #44 would be launching the Obama Global Initiative.


The Tea Party movement’s huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise. … Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election.

As Veuger concedes, we don’t know — and perhaps cannot know — the exact impact the IRS targeting had on the Tea Party movement and how that translated into actual 2012 vote totals. Of course, the Romney campaign had other problems. AEI’s Henry Olson:

Romney lost because he lost among those who chose the remaining characteristic — by 63 points, 81-18. That characteristic? Cares about people like me. The entire Obama campaign was designed to tell swing voters that Romney and the Republicans did not care about them. …  That message resonated with what the Democrats call the Rising American Electorate: Hispanics, young voters, single women and Asians. They voted for Obama and Democrats in record proportions. It also resonated with blue-collar whites.

But it sure makes for an intriguing “what if” scenario — and a warning about what happens when government gets out of control.

161 thoughts on “Did the IRS’s Tea Party suppression get Obama reelected?

  1. I don’t believe there’s any point in arguing about whether the actions of the IRS influenced the result of the election. I do believe that anyone in government who participated, supervised, condoned, or covered up the IRS’s illegal action should be in jail.

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  2. If Karl Rove’s SuperPac and others like it didn’t defeat Obama, you think the relatively tiny TeaParty groups that got extra scrutiny woulda pushed the needle?

    Tough one to take seriously. That is, unless you really want to make an impossible argument.

    • Karl Rove is under the delusion that Repub lite will win. He believes this because the talking heads on the left all say that if the right just modify their opinions more people would vote for them. Why vote for repub lite when they can get the real deal with the dems.

      I don’t believe Romney really wanted to win, orders I placed on website never were processed. The media wanted Obama elected and they would do everything in its power to make sure Romney was seen in a bad light. Everything was taken out of context but Romney was a gentleman goung up against an opponent using street thug tactics.

  3. What makes you so sure that Romney would have been the nominee? I hear the news and often wonder what we would see if Newt Gingrich or Herman Caine or a combination of these two had won the election. The economy might have taken a very different turn and some of the necessary dismantling of the government that is too big to track would have begun.

  4. Let’s not get off into the weeds here. Mitt Romney had zero chance of winning the election, regardless of any heightened scrutiny of Tea Whackers’ applications for 501(c)(4) grifter status.

    • No Romney had an excellent chance. He needed for voters to understand the issues. It is generally acknowledged that Obama’s ground game was in full force and Romney’s didn’t materialize. The illegal use of the IRS was only one reason that his didn’t show up. Conservatives’ repulsion of Mormonism was another. The media’s bias was the main reason.
      Look at a Tea Party demonstration, Elliot. Thousands upon thousands of good elderly citizens who are orderly, sincere, and knowledgeable about Washington. You do your cause a disservice by disparaging them. Cheap shots are not political arguments.

      • DBix is right on!But,there were reports of over 1/2 million protestors in DC against obamacare authored by the “TEA PARTY”!

      • Romney got all the votes of “good elderly citizens who are orderly, sincere, and knowledgeable (sic) about Washington.” They didn’t get him close to winning. IRS scrutiny of grifter applications didn’t prevent these folks from casting their votes for him. Sorry if I disparaged them, but in this case, disparagement is warranted and appropriate.

        • Good to see our low information voter Elliot is up early today. Usually he doesn’t roll out of bed until 10 but not today.

      • My view is that both the 2008 and 2012 Republican candiates were what as know as straw candiates. Neither McCain or Romney wanted to win. If they had they would have stayed away from debates with Obama and run a no holes bared campaign. When Romney refused to bring up the 4 Americans kill in the middle east at the last debate, I know Obama would win. I just watched a hard hitting campaign video, by the Republican that might have won the election for them. They didn’t run the video. Proves my point, another sell-out by Romney and the hapless Republicans.

        The IRS supression of the Tea Party Groups had very little to do with the outcome of the election.

    • Obama is proving that he is the most incompetent
      President in the history of the country.He is a total failure at foreign affairs and Obamacare will eventually bankrupt the entire economy of the United States.

      • Will agree that he is incompetent but he has pushed through legislation that will harm this nation. Take health care, you may die because of what the Democrats pushed through Congress without a single Republican vote. 2000 page bills are not the way to govern. I heard the regulations have passed 66,000 pages?

  5. @MGB: PIRG doesn’t run so-called “issue” ads against specific candidates on the left or the right. And that is exactly what Tea Party groups do.

    The only scandal here is that any of them got (c) 4 status in the first place.

    But thanks for the additional chuckle today pretending that Tea party groups are for limited government. I don’t think preventing people from marrying; insisting that women should have transvaginal wands shoved up their vagina if they want to terminate a pregancy; or taking 30 percent of my pay for endless wars all over the globe actually counts as limited government.

    The reality is that the Tea party wants to take over the government, and make it as dysfunctional as possible (except for the part where the government is all up in people’s personal business, and in support of the vast military industrial complex).

    • “The reality is that the Tea party wants to take over the government, and make it as dysfunctional as possible…”

      Um, sorry, which parallel universe do you usually inhabit?

      The federal government on Obama’s watch (actually beginning on Bush’s/Piglousy’s/Reid’s watches) has expanded more than ever, become more intrusive than ever, and is as incompetent (probably more incompetent) as FDR’s bungling “brain trust.” It is already completely, totally, and galactically dysfunctional and ineffective, except for killing economic growth. It’s stellar at that.

      It would be very, very difficult to improve on the current dysfunctional masterpiece.

    • rjd exemplifies the kind of lying vile machine that’s behind obama’s installment. The Taxed Enough Already Party had very little to do with social issues. Was more pro isolationist than belligerent. Scandal? That’s the dems stock in trade. Dysfunctional government. Read the headlines from the past 3 months troll.

  6. The underlying issue that matters is this: there was deliberate and selective suppression of organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideology. This was done by this administration because they considered the Tea Party a potential threat. Apparently it did not matter to the Obama administration that Tea Party support may have “cratered” in 2011 or whatever. Obama took/takes the Tea Party seriously, even if some commenters here don’t.

    I don’t think this suppression and intimidation was a cause of the GOP defeat, but it was definitely the intent of this IRS efort to help insure Obama’s re-election.

    • Bozo you are correct. Nixon’s break-in had no affect on the outcome of his election, but that fact that his CREEP considered itself above the law was good reason to kick him out. This systematic suppression of the political opposition by an agency as powerful as the IRS is miles above that effort. Shame on them if they new it was wrong. Shame on them if they didn’t. What was the crime? Looks to the RICO statutes. People should go to jail.

  7. Did the IRS’s Tea Party suppression get Obama reelected?

    The short answer is yes.

    The slightly longer answer is yes, but it didn’t matter.

    Huge government statism has won. People are serfs.

    It is worth mentioning, however, that if this were a Republican scandal, said Republican would have been impeached, removed, drawn, and quartered by now.

  8. So, I gather we’re supposed to assume people would’ve either changed their mind and voted for romney or actually voted instead of skipping if only they had more tea party yellers, well, yelling at them. This is laughably implausible, given current media saturation and previous tea party presence. Additionally, not being granted 501(c)(4) status didn’t exactly prevent these groups from existing.

    This is really an amateurish article.

    • Not at all, Bellamacina. When you look at the testimony, organizations that could not get the status could not get contributors. Conversely, Obama 501 c 4′s were getting contributions from some dubious sources. “Follow the money”. The IRS message to those organization was clear. No non-profit status, no contributions! Your observation is baseless, simplistic, and flatly false.

  9. Anyone whose political choices are governed not by specific policies on specific issues, but by whether or not the leadership “cares about people like [them]” as if they were children or pets, is a moron.

  10. It’s a question worth asking.

    My personal instinct is that even without IRS voter suppression games it would not have been enough. But we will never know for sure. Sadly we are stuck w/ Obama for 3 more years like it or not. That is the bleak reality.

    Agree with the poster that said those who initiated this need to go to jail. Not that I would expect Holder/DOJ to do anything but look the other way.

    • It is ironic that the IRS ended the mob with its tax evasion laws and now it is the mob.
      There are RICO laws that apply here. They do not exempt government employees. Not just the IRS, but several of our big bureaucracies have been routinely violating the rights of citizens with no accountability. If I were a young unemployed attorney, I would study RICO statutes. There is a lot of work to be done.

  11. The final breakdown of the election of 2012 is, Obama won because of Rush Limbra’s rants about Sandra Flunk calling her a slug over and over again. Rush’s alignment and alienation of women and some men, made them vote for Obama. This was the major factor of Romney’s loses, plain and simple.

    Which makes me, for one question who are Rush’s puppet masters, at best he is comic relief only.

  12. I could see local Tea Party groups dong more to increase fiscal conservative turnout if key members weren’t being sidelined by IRS paperwork. The Tea Party went from public rallies to very effective political organizing due to politically savvy amateurs who learned how to have influence within the system at the local level. The question is would their GOTV efforts been significantly more effective than those of the RNC? The Romney campaign was fairly good at getting the suburban swing vote, but Romney just wasn’t connecting with many rural blue collar workers. Would the Tea Party locals have reached voters turned off by the air war of television ads?

    One thing I remember from 2012 was how the Romney campaign seemed to suffer setbacks whenever they started to gain momentum. Candy Crowley gave Obama some cover on Benghazi, Superstorm Sandy derailed Romney, and then Chris Christie and Obama took political advantage of the storm and each other.

  13. Isn’t AEI supposed to be a reputable organization? This goes off the rails before you even get to ten words: “Some assumptions: 1. Let’s say Tea Party groups had continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010.”

    So let’s assume that a new movement will grow as much as it did between when it didn’t exist and its apparent peak? This is akin to thinking about this election back in 2008 and saying “let’s assume the number of Obama supporters grows as much from 2008 to 2012 as it did from 2004 to 2008.” You can’t just assume away the entire thing that debunks your argument.

    I’m really not sure how AEI can run this article and expect to be taken seriously. Maybe they’re just interested in pageviews.

  14. Of course it helped get Obama elected. But 501c is not the only way they were suppressed. Think of all the times they were slandered. These are not rich people. And are quite naive (perhaps not as much now ) that the established political parties would welcome them to the national debate. All political speech today is a monologue. And selfserving. I am hoping it will not be so with the Tea Party. A ray of hope. Here is to the Tea Party !!!

  15. If you look at the 3.48 million more votes Obama received in the popular General Election, then it would not appear to matter…. However….
    The Total General Election numbers don’t matter.
    Get into the grassroot ‘weeds’, then yes, it made a big impact.
    When Florida goes to Obama by only 73,000 votes… You don’t need to find 73,000 votes to offset, you only need to swing 37,000 to give a different outcome.
    Couple this with the grassroots efforts of Patriotic and Tea Party groups that were hindered in the real battleground states Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and you end up with the results we suffer under today.
    I wonder what the outrage would be if the IRS were hindering Lesbian groups en-mass, or Hispanic groups, or any other ‘group’.

  16. Would romney have won if there had not been IRS suppression of the tea party. Who can know for sure, but we do know:
    1. Obamas base turnout was slightly down from 2008, the problem was repub base turnout was down even more. An active energized tea party, that was not looking over its shoulders, could have helped that base turnout.
    2. There was no question the tea party was decisive in 2010, before the IRS persecution took full effect. If that same repub base turnout had come in 2012 it would have won the same way, but that turnout needed tea party excitement.
    3. Romney actually did OK aong independents, the problem was his base did not fully turnout. Part of that was his fault, he was not that inspiring to the base. But an active tea party could have made a big difference.
    4. After 2010 Obama was extremely worried about the tea party, thereby explaining the constant attempts to marginalize them, and the IRS harassment.

  17. So what have we learned here? We’ve learned that conservatives DON’T think Romney lost because:

    - He said 47% of the US population are losers
    - He said latinos should self deport
    - He made an ass of himself about the Benghazi attack before the facts were even out
    - He took just about every side of every issue he could possibly take at one time or another
    - He created the original Obamacare!
    - His running mate, Ryan, was caught in so many blantant lies he became known as “Lyin Ryan”
    - He embraced idiots like Todd Akin and that Murdock(rape is not a problem – it’s a blessing!)
    - The entire republican party came across as hating everyone but angry, old, white guys.
    … and on and on.

    This, frankly, moronic article/post is simply the latest excuse, as in “Waaaah, it’s Obama’s fault we lost!!”

    It’s not the democrat’s fault that republicans got their tushes kicked in every way possible in the last election. I know this because me and mine spent the last 6 months of the campaign cheering the idiocy of your entire slate of candidates.

    And let’s not forget, you’ve lost the popular vote in the last 5 of 6 presidential elections.

    What happened to the party of personal responsibility? LOL! Instead you blame everyone but your own unlikeable candidates, people, and policy.

  18. Oh, goody. Yet another right wing pundit generates a conspiracy theory based on “what-if” style of conjecture and speculation, all intended to portray the tea party as a maligned victim of government suppression and convey the notion (once again) that Obama was illegitimately elected as POTUS.

    Standard m.o. — fill the plausibility void created by your dearth of verifiable evidence and sound reasoning by simply making crap up.

  19. And as we peel back the layers, and expose the scurrying maggots that are eating away the fabric of our Republic, and our Constitution, can you honestly say this country is better off today???

    IRS, NSA, EPA same pattern of corruption and intimidation, ‘ruling class’ authority over the citizen class… and these are just the ones we have been made aware of… Wait until YOUR medical records become public consumption… won’t need to wait long…

    If this is the progressive evolution of the American Ideal, and we just sit back and accept it, then we will become a footnote in History.

    • The Answer is NO!!! What got Obama re-elected was Romney and the hapless Republicans refusing to go after Obama like a Bulldog. When I saw the last debate, with Romney-Obama and Romney refused to ask Obama about the 4 Americans killed in the middle east, I know the fix was in. Later on, when I watched a GOP Video Ad, that they never ran, I was 100% sure Romney was a straw candiate, just like McCain in 2008. Sarah Palin has just come out and said she was prevented from tell the truth about Obama in the 2008 election by the GOP.

      You see, we don’t really have a two party system at the national level. It’s all a shell game for the dumb, stuipd public.

  20. And it turns out Issa was lying all along. IG says he was told to leave scrutiny of progressive groups out of the report. Another one bites the dust.

  21. The IRS stole the election for Obama through Government action. Basically, the Tea Party movement existed to shrink government. The Government opposed this; did not want to be shrunk. The IRS, as the most feared arm of the Government, viciously swung into action on behalf of the Democrats and suppressed the vigorous grass-roots Tea Party movement with threats of audits and Government power.

  22. Um… yes!

    Barack Obama won election by a total of over 6 million votes – 5 million of which came from California and New York alone. The election would have gone the other way however if just three states had changed from blue to red: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Together they cast 19.7 million votes and Barack Obama won the three by a total of 550,000 votes. Not coincidentally, the epicenter of the IRS scandal was Cincinnati Ohio.

    To put the magnitude of this malfeasance in perspective, had each of those 500 organizations swayed a mere 500 citizens each in either Florida, Ohio or Pennsylvania, Barack Obama would have lost the election.


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