Mark Blumenthal | April 6, 2010
Topics: CNN/ORC , Frank Newport , Nate Silver , Party Identification , Party leaners , Tea Party movement , USAToday Gallup , Winston Group
The analysis of Tea Party Movement released last week by the Republican polling firm the Winston Group and a USA Today/Gallup poll on the same subject released yesterday have by now been commented upon by just about every political blog I follow. But yesterday, Nate Silver flagged a conflict I want to comment on involving the way some characterize the partisan attachments of Tea Party activists:
There are two ways that one can read the Winston Group poll on the political orientation of those who consider themselves a part of the tea-party movement. One way -- the headline that The Hill very reasonably chose -- is that about 40 percent of tea-partiers are independents or Democrats. The other -- obviously every bit as mathematically valid -- is that 60 percent are Republicans.
While either interpretation may be mathematically valid, The Hill headline is misleading if we consider the way pollsters typically measure and interpret party identification.
The Winston Group only asked the first part of the traditional party ID question: "Generally speaking, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or something else?" They did not ask the traditional follow-up: "Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?"
Back in February, a CNN survey found that on the first party question, 44% of Tea Party activists identified as Republicans, 4% as Democrats and 52% as independents. However, as I reported in a column last month, when CNN asked the traditional follow-up, nearly all the independents leaned Republican. Thus, with leaners included, 88% of CNN's Tea Party activists were Republican, 6% were Democrats and only 5% fell into the pure independent category.
As GWU Political Scientists John Sides often reminds us, independent leaners typically "act like partisans." Leaners vote for their party's candidate about as often as those who initially identify with the party (see my column and Sides' post for more).
Today, Frank Newport blogs more about the partisan affiliation of Tea Party supporters as measured by Gallup. Although they defined Tea Party support more broadly than CNN or the Winston Group (see Newport's post for more details), they found a very similar partisan leanings: On the initial party ID question, 49% identify as Republicans, 8% as Democrats and 43% as independent. But, Newport writes,
It appears that a healthy majority of those independents who are supporters of the Tea Party movement lean toward the Republican Party. When we do the math, we end up with 83% of supporters who are Republican or lean Republican, 4% who are pure independent (don't lean to either party) and 13% who are Democratic or lean Democratic.
The conclusion is simply a reinforcement of what Lydia wrote in the story: "Tea Party supporters are decidedly Republican and conservative in their leanings."
The table below summarizes the party identification of Tea Party activists or supporters as measured by all three pollsters. For what it's worth, I don't see anything particularly about the Winston Group's omission of the party-lean follow-up question. As I wrote in February, many pollsters omit that question to save time or because their samples are too small to allow analysis of the "pure independent" subgroup.
CNN defined Tea Party activists as the 11% of adults that reported giving money, attending rallies or taking other "active steps" to support the Tea Party movement. The Winston Group reported on the 16% of registered voters who consider themselves "part of the Tea Party movement." Gallup profiled 28% of adults who say the consider themselves "supporters of the Tea Party movement."
Do not read these findings as belittling the significance of the Tea Party movement. In fact, the large number of Republican leaners among self-described Tea Party activists or supporters speaks to a growing political enthusiasm among voters who typically choose Republican candidates in national elections but are less likely to vote in party primaries or off-year general elections. That's an important story, but should not be confused with the battle for the kind of true swing-voters we think of when we hear the word "independent."