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Re: Tea Party Polling

Topics: Chris Bowers , CNN/ORC , Measurement , National Journal column , Tea Party movement

Does the just released CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll overstate "active support" for the Tea Party movement? They report "roughly 11 percent of all Americans say they have actively supported the tea party movement, either by donating money, attending a rally, or taking some other active step to support the movement." That number strikes Ben Smith as "surprisingly large," and Chris Bowers notes that respondents often exaggerate their true levels of activism. They are both right to caution us against interpreting these results too literally, but it's worthy considering how the CNN pollsters arrived at the 11% estimate and what it means.

In my column on polling on the Tea Party movement yesterday, I reported two findings from national polls released last week: The number of hard core Tea Party supporters is relatively small (somewhere in the mid-to-upper teens, depending on the measure), while 45% tell the Washington Post/ABC poll they at least "somewhat agree" with the Tea Party positions on issues.

The results of the CNN poll are broadly consistent:

  • The CNN poll finds 15% of adults say they "strongly support" the Tea Party, very similar to the 14% who told said they "strongly agree" with the Tea Party movement's positions on issues on the Post/ABC poll and slightly less than the 18% who say they consider themselves to be "supporters" of the movement on the Times/CBS poll.
  • CNN also finds a total of 35% who at least "moderately support the party. That is less than the 45% who say they agree with the Tea Party on issues in the Post/ABC post, but mostly because CNN offered the explicit choice "or don't you know enough about the Tea Party to say?

But the 11% statistic comes from three separate questions asked on the CNN survey.

2010-02-17-CNN-tea-party.png

The combine the results to find that a total of 11% of adults answer yes to any of the three questions. The number who say they have given money to the Tea Party movement is relatively small (2%). As Bowers guesses, a good chunk of the 11% -- probably about half -- comes from the 7% who say they "took any other active steps" to support the movement, which is obviously a pretty soft measure.

And Bowers is right that survey respondents tend to overstate all sorts of political participation, past voting, intent to vote, political giving, even how often they watch news broadcasts. So a literal interpretation of these statistics is not recommended. I would also caution against assuming that the Tea Party enthusiasts are unique on this score. I don't have a ready link, but political scientists have been studying vote over-reporting for decades and I do not recall reading about differences by political party or ideology.

The larger point here is that there is a relatively small number (10% to 20%) of Americans who express very strong sympathy to something called the Tea Party movement.    The recent polls, including this new one from CNN, tell us a great deal about who those Americans are and what they believe.

 

Comments
GARY WAGNER:

Relatively small number? When is the last time you have seen a presidential election won by more than a 7% spread? 10% to 20% makes all the difference in the world - especially when they are energizer.

If they get organized then they will be an even stronger power. Right now it is nothing more than a concept and you already have 20% of the country sympathetic with it. That's as many people as there are in this country that call themselves liberal. Yet, the liberals have a stranglehold in Washington.

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Field Marshal:

This is a grassroots movement similar to moveon.org, code pink, etc that coalesced after we went to war in 2003. I think the tea party movement will ultimately be similar to these groups, especially moveon.org.

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tazzle:

Who are these Teabaggers? They are people that are winning battles now, but are destined to lose the major war down the road. Look at their demographics. They are older and whites. They may have kissed off the African-American vote, since they've voted for Democrats by over 90% margins in the last several elections, but they're alienating other minority voters that they desperately need. Republicans lost the Hispanic vote last election by 75%. Jewish vote, same. Catholic almost the same. I'm Hispanic and we're all rabid Democrats except for one of my sisters that is a one issue voter--anti-abortion. She has always voted Republican. But, she has watched this Tea Party movement obsessively and racial/ethnic issues have now trumped anti-abortion issues for her. She won't go out and vote Democrat in the next election, I don't reckon. But, it wouldn't hurt our cause if she didn't vote at all.

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ThomasAllen:

Doesn't addition of the three numbers misrepresent the true "support"? Money-givers and event-attenders likely have a lot of crossover. And anyone who has given money or attended an event almost certainly took other active steps to support the Tea Party movement. Or were the questions exclusionary (i.e. you could only answer one "yes")?

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jamesia:

Polls like these should attempt to determine how many Tea Party "supporters" are actually liberals. A small portion is probably liberals that hope to boost tea party support in an effort to further divide the GOP.

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TerryDarc:

If 2% of Americans have donated money to the Teabaggers, they must be ROLLING in $$'s. No, these people are lying sacks of s**t! They only gave money while jerking off in the bathroom at the Econo-gas station.

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Mark Blumenthal:

Sorry to be picking this thread up a little late.

@ThomasAllen: CNN didn't use "addition" to define that group. They asked the three yes/no questions in the graphic above and defined Tea Party Activists at those who answered yes to any of the the three. In other words, the 11% statistic is based on those said they gave money OR attended a rally or meeting OR "took any other active step."

@jamesia: The table at the end of the pdf report that CNN released tells us that the group they call Tea Party activists (11% overall) identifies as 77% conservative, 20% moderate and 3% liberal.

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