Is There A Disconnect Between The Tea Party Agenda And Voter Priorities?
The agenda of the Tea Party movement doesn't necessarily coincide with what voters say they want from Washington.
Initial polling in the wake of the debt ceiling negotiations suggests that the public may be souring on the Tea Party movement:
The public’s opinion of the Tea Party movement has soured in the wake of the debt-ceiling debate. The Tea Party is now viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of the public and favorably by just 20 percent, according to the poll. In mid-April 29 percent of those polled viewed the movement unfavorably, while 26 percent viewed it favorably. And 43 percent of Americans now think the Tea Party has too much influence on the Republican Party, up from 27 percent in mid-April.
Greg Sargent points to another internal number in the poll:
The Tea Party is rapidly shrinking before our very eyes, and is hemorraging supporters at a surprising rate:
Do you consider yourself to be a supporter of the Tea Party movement, or not?
The 18 percent who self-identify as Tea Party supporters is at its lowest point, tying the 18 percent who supported it way back in April of 2010, when it was first gaining steam as the Congressional races of last cycle began heating up. The trajectory is interesting: The Times poll shows the Tea Party has had some ups and downs, but it steadily gained supporters as the 2010 campaigns wore on, and peaked with 31 percent of the electorate saying they supported the movement at around the time that the GOP won its massive 2010 victory.
Then its support began to decline, and it then dropped a precipitous eight points from June until today — a period that roughly coincided with the debt ceiling debate, which showcased Tea Party intransigence and self-delusion at its finest. Not only that, but right now, the 73 percent who say they are not supporters is at its highest point ever.
More importantly for the GOP, though, is what Steven Benen notes, that the public’s goals and the goals of the most vocal part of the Republican Party are in opposition:
The results that should matter most to policymakers are right here:
“Which of these should be the higher priority for the nation right now: cutting government spending or creating jobs?”
Cutting spending: 29%
Creating jobs: 62%
It’s not just that Republicans are unpopular; and it’s not just that the mainstream believes Republicans are too focused on playing politics and too unwilling to compromise. The real issue here is that the entire Republican agenda in Washington is based on a specific goal — which happens to be the opposite of what voters want.
This gets back to an issue I’ve been writing about since the 2010 election, and I thought I’ve shared several times here since then. To a large extent I think the Republican Party, and the Tea Party, are misreading what the 2010 elections are about and assuming the existence of a mandate for spending cuts and austerity that doesn’t exist. It wasn’t a desire to massively reduce the size of the government that brought voters to the polls to vote for Republican candidates, it was, in the words of James Carville, the economy, stupid:
The results underscored the economic distress defining the 2010 election. Eighty-nine percent of voters said the national economy’s in bad shape — nearly as many as the record 92 percent who said so two years ago. What changed is the direction of their ire: In 2008, 54 percent of such voters favored Barack Obama. This year, 55 percent backed Republicans for the House.
Compounding the political impact of the long downturn, 87 percent remain worried about the economy’s direction in the next year — including half “very” worried. They voted more than 2-1 for Republicans this year, 70-28 percent.
The economy has deeply affected the broader public mood. Sixty-one percent in the national exit poll said the country’s headed seriously off on the wrong track; they supported Republicans by 75-23 percent. More broadly, 38 percent said they expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse than it is today, vs. 32 percent better — a negative balance on one aspect of the American dream.
Exit polls have had varying “most important issues” lists since 1992 with “the economy” as an issue. This year, 62 percent of voters picked it as the single most important issue in their vote — and they voted 53-44 percent for Republicans for House. It was the first time economy voters favored Republicans.
The second most important issue was health care, which was mention by 19% of the voters surveyed. All of the other issues garnered single digits. While looking at the exit polls, I made this point:
The idea that there’s some kind of broad political consensus for the budget cuts and, yes, tax increases that would be needed to seriously deal with the deficit and the debt simply isn’t supported by the available evidence. That’s not saying that Republicans shouldn’t attack debt and spending issues over the next two years, of course, but the danger they face this time around is similar to the one they faced in 1994. By concentrating on issues that are important to their base, they are in danger of ignoring what’s important to the public as a whole. Much like 2008, this election was primarily about one thing, the economy. Democrats suffered two weeks ago because they lost sight of that. Republicans could suffer a similar fate if they forget why they were sent to Capitol Hill.
Shortly after the election, there were polls indicating that the Tea Party was not representative of the American electorate as a whole and that the American public didn’t share the Tea Party’s priorities when it came to issues like government spending. As the 112th Congress labored on, we started to see polls indicating that there was little public support for the kind of severe spending cuts that some Republicans were proposing. Then, we had the debt ceiling debacle and the polls that seemingly indicate that the public was not entirely behind the Tea Party/GOP “spending cuts only” approach, although there was one CNN poll that seemed to indicate strong support for the GOP’s Cut, Cap, and Balance plan.
The danger for the GOP is the same one alluded to in my November post. They were put into office because of a bad economy and a job situation that seemed, and still seems, hopeless for countless numbers of Americans. Instead of pursuing an agenda designed to promote economic growth by, say, advocating corporate and individual tax reform, they have pursued an austerity agenda that focuses on cutting government spending while keeping hands off the Tax Code entirely. From a political perspective this is, to say the very least, a risky move, especially since it makes it look like their ignoring the concerns that voters are at the front of their mind.
To some extent, it seems that some GOP leaders recognize this because they spent much of their time during the debt ceiling negotiations saying that getting Federal Government spending under control would reduce economic uncertainty and help economic growth. It’s hard to see the actual logic in that statement, and there aren’t any economists that I’ve heard of on the left or the right who’ve argued that immediately reducing government spending would lead to positive economic growth. In reality, the immediate, albeit temporary, impact of a large reduction in government spending is likely to be a reduction in economic growth as spending is removed from the economy (this is main reason that no raising the debt ceiling would have been suicidal). Now that they’ve gotten what they want, though, they are going to be hard pressed to show results.
The Tea Party has done very well at getting its agenda pushed to the forefront in the GOP, Its influence can be seen in the manner in which politicians like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who’s personal inclination would likely have been to make a deal long before it actually took place, acted throughout these negotiations. The problem for the GOP is that the Tea Party may be pushing the party in a the opposite direction from where the public is heading. It is, in fact, the economy, stupid, and the GOP could find itself in trouble if it forgets that.