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Tea Party Polling

Topics: ABC/Washington Post , CBS/New York Times , National Journal column , Tea Party movement

My column for this week looks at the recent polling on the Tea Party movement with a focus on how pollsters pondered this issue and then tackled it in longer form surveys released last week. Special thanks to the Washington Post's Jennifer Agiesta for providing some additional data.

For the most thorough review of perceptions of the Tea Party movement, I highly recommend the reports by CBS News, ABC News and the Washington Post's story and accompanying graphic.

I want to expand a little on one point made toward the end of the column: The number of hard core supporters is relatively small (somewhere in the mid-to-upper teens, depending on the measure), while a much larger percentage (45%) tell the Post/ABC poll they at least "somewhat agree" with the Tea Party positions on issues.

But which positions do these 45% agree with? After all, many sources will point out, there are many Tea Party movements with sometimes only vaguely articulated issue positions. Neither of the two recent surveys directly probed knowledge of the tea party positions, but it is possible to glean some sense of their perceptions by looking at other attitudes among the self-identified Tea Party sympathizers.

For example, as I noted in the column, expressed agreement with Tea Party positions is much higher with conservatives (63%), strong Republicans (67%), those who disapprove of Obama (65%) and those who express anger at Washington (69%). Here are some additional details from the ABC News report:

[Tea Party support] peaks among people who are more apt to see the government as wasting money; people who strongly agree with the movement say on average that the government wastes 63 cents out of every tax dollar it collects. People who disagree with the Tea Party see less waste, albeit still a lot - 47 cents on the dollar.

Tea Party supporters are more apt to classify themselves as anti-incumbent - 64 percent of those who strongly agree with its positions do so, as do 53 percent of those who somewhat agree, compared with 40 percent of those who disagree. And the movement's conservative, Republican base shows up in vote preferences for the midterm elections. Among registered voters who agree at least somewhat with Tea Party positions, Republicans hold the lead over Democratic congressional candidates by a very wide 70-22 percent.

Taken together, these results imply that among Americans who have heard something about it, the words "Tea Party movement" imply a politically conservative reaction against Obama, Washington and perceived waste in government spending.

But both surveys also yield evidence that most Americans know little or nothing about the movement, and some additional results suggest that those who are only "somewhat" supportive hold positions that may be at odds with those frequently associated with the movement. Here is more from the ABC News report:

While the Tea Party promotes limited government, some of its supporters have different views on government health care mandates. For example, 62 percent of those who say they agree at least somewhat with Tea Party positions also say the government should require businesses to provide health insurance for employees.

Even more, 71 percent, say government should require insurance companies to sell coverage to people regardless of pre-existing conditions. And while shy of a majority, a substantial share of Tea Party supporters, 43 percent, say government should require all Americans to have health insurance, from their employer or another source, with financial assistance for those who need it.

 

Comments
GARY WAGNER:

There is still no such thing as "The Tea Party". It is a loosely applied label.

It is also a misnomer that Obama is the driving influence of those who identify themselves as belonging to the tea party movement. The April 15th tax day protests began long before Obama was elected and before they started calling them tea parties. We have been throwing tea bags into the rivers here in Indiana since at least 2007 to protest runaway government spending.

The movement got it's name in 2009 and Obama supporters suddenly claimed it was all about race. The real supporters, the ones that understand the core principles of the tea party movement are for smaller government and less government spending. Is there any wonder that they then lean toward conservatives and republicans? The protests began when government started getting out of control, grew bigger when Bush allowed congress to run up the deficits, and is now close to being a full-scale bonafide political party because government spending at this level can't be sustained.

The core of the tea bag movement is fiscal conservatism. It has nothing to do with social issues outside of government taxes and spending. The other issues are fringes. If it becomes more organized, the birthers, the truthers, and the racists will fall away and go find a conspiracy movement to glom onto. But until they do, a large number of people will identify the entire movement with the 5% at the fringe.

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Lou-NH:

So Gary, If I understand you correctly the Tea Party movement is fiscally conservative republicans. Do I have that right?

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GARY WAGNER:

No, you don't understand at all, Lou. Most of the tea party people think like I do - that republicans are the lowest form of life on earth - except for the democrats.

Republicans would come in second in a race between a democrat, a republican, and a real conservative.

But, the tea party isn't made up of a bunch of idiots. They're not going to support unelectable candidates. They are going to support the candidate that comes closest to their beliefs and has at least a chance of being elected.

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Aaron_in_TX:

The tea parties don't seem to be *for* anything. They are against a lot - from taxes in general to big government. It looks to me like a way for the people who are unhappy with anything today to express themselves, but mostly it is made up of people who did not like Obama or the democrats in the first place and now like them less.

So, it's a basic protest movement that's angry at the world. It kind of reminds me of some of the "new left" protestors of the 60s in the sense that they were against a lot but not for too much. Once you remove what they are primarily opposed to (Vietnam), the movement disintegrates. If you remove what the tea partiers are most opposed to (a democratic administration), they will blend back in to the woodwork as well.

The tea party protestors should be careful not to follow precedent of the new left. Eventually the extreme elements became the driving force and spawned groups like the Weathermen. My concern is that some elements of the tea parties might morph into something extreme like that.

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Lou-NH:

Gary - I am not intending to be adversarial. What you just described sounds like a disaffected branch of the Republican Party which by the way is why I left the party. I was a registered republican up until the last election although I have not voted the party line in presidential elections. I am just trying to get an unfiltered explanation on what a Tea Partier is and what they stand for. For the most part they look like an angry mob. The signs, rhetoric and public faces suggest deep social & fiscal conservatism. I am a fiscal conservative but a social moderate, something the Republican Party threw away a while ago. Now they can never have my vote again. So I am left with very few choices among very few choices. I wish the moderate party would re-emerge.

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Lou-NH:

Aaron - Thanks for your insights. I most certainly recall the frustration of the anti-war movement and I tend to agree that the movement fizzled along with the wind down of the war effort. I generally try to find a point of commonality to build on. With the Tea Party individuals that I communicate with it is not real clear. For instance, some say they want to eliminate all government programs including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Others tell me that is just the extremes and a majority do not want that at all. The polling is no more helpful in understanding their positions. I have always been a supporter of third party movements; however, this is one movement that has not defined itself enough for me to make an intelligent determination.

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GARY WAGNER:

Lou-NH: You'll see the tea party rallies as whatever the particular news organization you watch wants you to see. If you want to know the truth, you'll have to actually go to one. You'll never see it on the news.

Aaron - if democrats ever stop spending money like drunken sailors, raising taxes, and running the debt sky-high then maybe the tea party wouldn't be against them. The tea party supports small government. Democrats now support total government.

The tea party opposed Bush allowing spending to get out of control. The MSM conveniently forgets that.

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Aaron_in_TX:

Gary,

Was the tea party around during the Bush administration? If they were they must have been much, much smaller. I think Dick Armey was one of the original organizers. The first I heard of them was in 2009 regarding the planned tax day demonstrations.

I've seen some in action locally. There was one where they heckled congressman Lloyd Doggett and the tax day demonstration where they got together in downtown Austin in funny hats & clothes with signs like "Don't Tread on Me" and Obama as socialist, etc... Generally, they don't like where the country's going. Again, I think if you remove the democratic administration, they disappear.

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Aaron_in_TX:

"I have always been a supporter of third party movements; however, this is one movement that has not defined itself enough for me to make an intelligent determination."

There seems to be a limit to the tea party organizational ability. In style they're a little like the Young Americans for Freedom, but without the express goal - which for them was getting Barry Goldwater the republican nomination. IMO, the tea party is not anywhere near what the Reform party was, which far more clearly articulated fiscal conservative policy.

The tea party doesn't know if they favor Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, or someone in between. They need to figure that out. You can't be both simultaneously and have a coherent platform.

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GARY WAGNER:

"Was the tea party around during the Bush administration? If they were they must have been much, much smaller."

Yes. I know there were tea parties as early as 2007. No, they didn't get any coverage because there were plenty of other groups protesting something or other that Bush was doing. Spending has been out of control since Reagan. It got horrible under Bush II. Then Obama increased budget spending by 30% right after the $700 billion bank bailout, and the massive $850 billion union payoff bill.

Reasonable people think that close to $4 trillion in deficit spending in 2 years time is enough to get people riled up but then there are those that think it is all about race and political parties.

The "stimulus" bill was the $850 billion straw that broke the camel's back. That pork filled, earmark filled, special interest wish-list wasteful spending bill was passed exclusively by democrats with the exception of 3 RINO senators and it was signed by a democrat president. Who do you think the rath would be directed at? The Green party?

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