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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Better Glimpse At the Tea Party Movement

Finally, someone has taken a public opinion survey that provides something better than a vague, distant glimpse of the Tea Party Movement. A new CBS/Times poll drills down below the surface and reveals that the Movement is not exactly the vastly popular political behemoth we have been led to believe it is. And it’s mostly composed of conservative Republicans and conservative independents who never liked Barack Obama to begin with, who dislike him now with an unusual intensity, and who have policy views that are well to the right of national public opinion.
The poll shows 18% of Americans identifying themselves as Tea Party supporters, with fully 43% saying they don’t know enough about it to have an opinion, or have never heard of it at all. (In a separate question, 55% of respondents say they know “nothing” or “not much” about the movement). There’s no straightforward report of party ID among tea partiers, but the composition of the various partisan components indicates they are roughly two-thirds Republicans, one-third independents, with a very small smattering of Democrats. For all the talk of tea partiers being equally hostile to both major parties, 62% of them have a favorable view of the GOP, while only 9% have a favorable view of the Democratic Party. 80% have an unfavorable opinion of President Obama.
Are tea party enthusiasts anti-corporate “populists” who could theoretically be attracted to a more left-bent, populist Democratic Party? Doesn’t look like it, since tea partiers are much more likely than Americans as a whole to oppose increased bank regulations, and nearly twice as likely to think Obama is prejudiced in favor of poor folks (not a compliment, given their general hostility to him). They are also much, much less likely to attribute the federal budget deficits they hate so much to the Bush administration. Nearly half of them erroneously believe the Obama administration has already raised taxes (again, not a good thing in their eyes).
There’s a lot more we could learn about tea partiers from a more detailed survey of their opinions on economic and cultural issues, and for that matter, on foreign policy. Since the activist-leadership of the movement includes both Ron Paul veterans and Christian Right culture-warriors, there may be less unanimity on some subjects.
But the more I learn empirically about these folk, the more I’m inclined to my original feeling that they are mostly very conservative 2008 McCain-Palin voters who have been radicalized by various events of the last two years. They are not anything new under the political sun, aside from the intensity of their beliefs, including counter-factual beliefs such as the conviction that Barack Obama has raised their taxes. As such, they mainly represent a force pushing the Republican Party to the right, which is where the Republican Party was headed anyway.

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