THE RELEVANCE OF RACE…. Part of what makes the Tea Party crowd interesting is the effort to understand what motivates the so-called “movement.”

The issues activists usually point to as driving their cause don’t make sense. It can’t be fiscal responsibility, because they said nothing when Bush and the GOP added $5 trillion to the debt. It can’t be taxes, since rates are low and Obama just gave them a tax cut. It can’t be concerns over the size of government since they applauded the Patriot Act and endorsed the ridiculous new immigration measure in Arizona.

So, what makes these activists feel unhinged? It’s not unreasonable to wonder if maybe race has something to do with it.

Anecdotally, Tea Partiers have repeatedly bolstered these concerns with their rhetoric, placards, emails, and threats. But what about more quantifiable measures? Newsweek has this report.

A new survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality offers fresh insight into the racial attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers. “The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability” — 25 percent, to be exact — “of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters,” says Christopher Parker, who directed the study. “The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race.”

Surveyers asked respondents in California and a half dozen battleground states (like Michigan and Ohio) a series of questions that political scientists typically use to measure racial hostility. On each one, Tea Party backers expressed more resentment than the rest of the population, even when controlling for partisanship and ideology. When read the statement that “if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites,” 73 percent of the movement’s supporters agreed, while only 33 percent of people who disapproved of the Tea Party agreed. Asked if blacks should work their way up “without special favors,” as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed, compared to 56 percent of opponents. The study revealed that Tea Party enthusiasts were also more likely to have negative opinions of Latinos and immigrants.

This comes on the heels of a New York Times/CBS News poll that found Tea Party supporters tend to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.”

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.