How to measure “success” of movements like the Tea Party

In the midst of an opinion piece about the Tea Party, E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post touches on an interesting social movements question: what makes a social movement successful?

Before you dismiss the question, note that word “successful.” Judge the Tea Party purely on the grounds of effectiveness and you have to admire how a very small group has shaken American political life and seized the microphone offered by the media, including the so-called liberal media.

But it’s equally important to recognize that the Tea Party constitutes a sliver of opinion on the extreme end of politics receiving attention out of all proportion with its numbers.

In this excerpt (and by the end of the article), Dionne suggests two markers of success for the Tea Party:

1. Getting the attention of the media and political leaders. (Dionne says this has been a success.)

2. Having a majority (or perhaps just a large enough critical mass?) of Americans on its side or as constituents. (Dionne suggests this is not the case.)

There also could be other measuring sticks for success:

1. How many Tea Party candidates reach political office. This could be for the 2010 election cycle or for elections beyond that.

2. How long the movement lasts. Is it here just for this election cycle or longer? Is it going to be a permanent party or will it fade away?

3. How much money can be raised in support.

I’m not sure I’ve read that the Tea Party itself has defined what “success” looks like.

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