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?

Yes 18

No 73

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.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Tea Party, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The Beltway, The Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Is There A Disconnect Between The Tea Party Agenda And Voter Priorities?s

    In a word? Yes.

    I

    t is, in fact, the economy, stupid, and the GOP could find itself in trouble if it forgets that.

    They got the House majority because people wanted jobs. The Repubs thought it was about destroying Obama… silly them.

  2. john personna says:

    I think the biggest problem the Tea Party has is where voters will be in 2012. They are starting to catch up with the facts. Principally that austerity is painful.

  3. The Tea Party was always a cat’s paw; a way for Republicans to criticize Obama without having to address the failings of the Bush administration by pretending they weren’t the people responsible for it. The fact that the Tea Party is disappearing isn’t because it’s members have stopped beliving what they were saying (except for a handful of useful idiots they never really believed what they were saying), but because it’s served its purpose (getting the GOP back into the game without a need for serious reform) and is being discarded.

    The Republicans think they’re getting control back in 2012. Just as they didn’t care about limited government a day before January 20, 2009, they won’t care about it a day after January 20, 2013.

  4. john personna says:

    john personna says “I actually worry that austerity may be in our future” on Thursday, May 27, 2010

  5. legion says:

    I like your stuff, Doug. And a lot of the time I agree with you, at least in principle. But you have a habit of writing some of the most “well, duh!” headlines on this site 🙂

    I think it’s been quite apparent for months now (if not longer) that the Tea Party organization had absolutely nothing to do with the goals & interests of the vast majority of the people who considered themselves TP supporters. It was only ever an astroturf development of the far-right wing of the GOP, using pure propaganda and outright lies to get the angry conservative voting bloc actually engaged & voting, instead of sitting out election cycles in protest.

    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.

    It’s equally important to note the Republicans’ tight focus on passing socially conservative (as opposed to fiscally conservative) legislation at all levels. For a significant percentage of both the Tea Party and the mainstream GOP, that was always their top priority…

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    As this demonstrates the Republicans in Congress are even conflicted with conservatives.

    About 49% of conservatives want to cut or eliminate foreign aid; 35% want to cut or eliminate welfare. The other programs, however, are again quite popular. The average percentage of conservatives who want to increase spending is unchanged: about 54%.

  7. mattb says:

    I am taking bets as to how soon before a certain vocal minority show up and announce that these polls are the biased results of a lame-stream media which didn’t talk to any real Americans. There might be a bit in their response about RiNO’s and how this misses the point of the 2010 elections. And I expect that at least one of them will conclude with a reminder that doing the right thing – as in saving America from those inside the beltway types – is never the “popular option.”

    I give it 15 posts…Extra points for guess who the first responder will be…

  8. Jay Tea says:

    @legion:

    I think it’s been quite apparent for months now (if not longer) that the Tea Party organization had absolutely nothing to do with the goals & interests of the vast majority of the people who considered themselves TP supporters. It was only ever an astroturf development of the far-right wing of the GOP, using pure propaganda and outright lies to get the angry conservative voting bloc actually engaged & voting, instead of sitting out election cycles in protest.

    And I’m sure you have names, numbers, and specific actions taken by these diabolical puppet masters that show how they are spending big bucks to make it all happen, right?

    Are the average Tea Partiers out of touch with the mainstream of America? Maybe, maybe not. What’s important is that they don’t care. They have their beliefs, their principles, and these are not things subject to public approval. What’s more, they have found out just how incredibly easy it is to network with others who share their beliefs. Unlike the left, these people neither want nor need a central authority, paymasters, or “community organizers” to pull together and achieve their goals. They don’t need fancy names and hefty budgets and glitzy offices in DC and designated spokespeople and chairpeople and facilitators and whatnot — and they want nothing to do with them.

    Mocking them wont’ make them go away. Insulting them won’t make them go away. Lying about them won’t make them go away. To steal a line from another cause, they’re here and they’re sincere — get used to it.

    J.

  9. Jay says:

    @legion: It’s interesting that populist movements seem to implode just when the start make progress with their goals. It was amazing to watch the antiwar movement dissipate exactly when they were in the best position to end all the wars. Seems like we’re seeing the same thing here.

    On a side note, can someone explain to me how it became a given that the Tea Party is an astroturf movement?

  10. legion says:

    Well, just type ‘tea party astroturf’ into El Goog and you’ll find lots of stuff, from opinion to actual reporting. I mean, it’s not even really denied any more by the GOP that the Tea Party is their own Frankenstein’s Monster… it just drowned the little flower girl, and the villagers are sizing up their torches.

    And as for Jay Tea,
    Unlike the left, these people neither want nor need a central authority, paymasters, or “community organizers” to pull together and achieve their goals.
    You really can’t get through a single paragraph of otherwise moderately sane statements without throwing in a pathetically transparent whopper. Have you ever heard of guys like Beck or Limbaugh? Dick Armey, maybe? What are the Koch bros _but_ paymasters to the Tea Party? You pathetic idiot.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Mocking them wont’ make them go away.

    No, merely seeing them in action, like in the recent debt ceiling debate, will help make them go away…

  12. Scott O. says:

    Behold, the mighty tea party

    “At the start of the rally, which was organized by the American Grassroots Coalition and Tea Party Express, there were roughly 15 attendees waiting to hear the conservative lawmakers speak. By the time the senators had spoken there were still fewer than 50 tea partiers in attendance.”

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/60059.html

  13. Jay Tea says:

    @legion: Oh, the Grauniad. And it’s George Moonbat! You call that “actual reporting?”

    Hang on, I got a counter-report of “actual reporting” from Pat Buchanan.

    And your “columnist” simply asserts the astroturfing without even bothering to cite an example.

    So, legion, I repeat my prior challenge: show some signs of just how the Tea Party is astroturf. And let’s use the definition of astroturfing as applied to the King Of Astroturf and White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe. And that means showing just HOW the astroturfing is carried out.

    Pick the average liberal protest — it’s loaded with all the hallmarks of astroturfing. Chartered buses. Uniform professional printed signs. Uniform T-Shirts. Designated professional spokespeople. Press releases.

    Contrast with a Tea Party event.

    If the Tea Party movement is the bought-and-paid-for creature of Big Money on the right, where the hell is the money going? How is it being spent? One of the hallmarks of the Tea Party movement is that it’s all done on the cheap. They don’t want or need big funding.

    Good lord, I can’t believe you cited George Moonbat and his column in the Grauniad as “actual journalism.” I mean, did you really think no one would actually check your link?

    J.

  14. mattb says:

    Unlike the left, these people neither want nor need a central authority, paymasters, or “community organizers” to pull together and achieve their goals. They don’t need fancy names and hefty budgets and glitzy offices in DC and designated spokespeople and chairpeople and facilitators and whatnot — and they want nothing to do with them.

    Possibly, but its also true that there are a lot of groups getting rich off of “organizing” the tea party.

    Freedom Works is perhaps the best known of the groups (http://www.freedomworks.org/). There’s also the “Tea Party Nation” (http://www.teapartynation.com/) and “Tea Party Patriots” (http://www.teapartypatriots.org/) along with scores of second tier national organizations. And, as far as individuals, Glenn Beck is a great example of someone whose been both assisting with the organizing and profiting from the work (BTW, links to Mr. Beck and Judge Andrew Napalitano’s web sites can be found on many Tea Party Organization blogs).

    There are definitely Tea Party groups that have eschewed these organizations, but pretending that this is completely a ground up/community driven effort is burying one’s head in the sand. As bad as pretending that all of Obama’s 2008 grassroots support was pure grassroots.

  15. mattb says:

    The one “constantly” played out of the Tea Party is the “iNO” — that Dick’s Army and other groups that formed around the grassroot beginnings of the Tea Party don’t represent “teh realz tea party.”

    The problem with this is that it’s the ultimate out and can be used for any group. In other words, using this logic you can argue that there never is a “true” tea party (or Republican or Democrat or Liberal or Libertarian or Communist) because you can find a fault in every group.

  16. James in LA says:

    @Jay Tea: Two words: eighteen percent.

    I know the fact-adverse tea people don’t much cotton to math, either, but very soon this is going to turn into a numbers game, and the GOP is playing defense on the electoral map. Given the Ryan Plan and Gov. Scott, FL cannot be counted on by the GOP, a state they absolutely must have to win. I’ll give you back CO, NC and IN and you still lose.

    This will be cemented in place when the unreasonable litmus test board exams also called primary elections force the GOP so far to the right they disappear beyond the cosmic background radiation. The questions this will queue up for the generals will be worse than what will pass for answers. They will be getting into the Good and Holy Flat Earth ‘ere the end.

    A nation cannot be sustained on belief, nor a reliance on a collection of personal “facts.” This is the second biggest problem the GOP faces.

    The first is that pesky 18%,

  17. jan says:

    @James in LA:

    James, put down the dubie and clear your brain. Nothing you just said makes any sense, except perhaps your projection about losing FL because of Scott (of which I disagree).

    At this point, however, it’s just too early to say how the electorate is going to rate the two parties by gracing them with a vote. However, Obama’s presidency is still going to be number 1 in so many negative categories —> highest debt ever, most rancor ever, highest number on food stamps ever, 1st to have credit rating lowered ever, and probably the most lavish parties, trips, and golf games ever, to boot — all as the nation is going down in economical flames.

    If this president had an R by his name, and he was only half as self-indulgent as Obama has been, he would have been regularly filleted by progressives on this same blog.

  18. Scott O. says:
  19. An Interested Party says:

    However, Obama’s presidency is still going to be number 1 in so many negative categories —> highest debt ever, most rancor ever, highest number on food stamps ever, 1st to have credit rating lowered ever…

    Well, if the President alone was responsible for all those things, you might very well have a valid point, but since he isn’t, sorry, but you’re wrong…and all this was written without the aid of a doobie…

    If this president had an R by his name, and he was only half as self-indulgent as Obama has been, he would have been regularly filleted by progressives on this same blog.

    If the President had an R by his name, the GOP would have passed a clean debt ceiling increase, rather than playing their game of extortion…