Tea Party Popularity

Yes, the Tea Party is popular compared to the Democrats and Republicans.

In a column in the Washington Examiner, Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make the following observation:

The Tea Party movement is broad-based with wide support. Over half of the electorate now say they favor the Tea Party movement, around 35 percent say they support the movement, 20 to 25 percent self-identify as members of the movement, and 2 to 7 percent say they are activists.

[…]

The data is particularly clear, and some polls have shown that the Tea Party movement is the most popular force in American politics … and is increasingly been recognized as such by a media that was, at the very least, late to the party.

To which I have two responses:

1)  We are currently in an era of prolonged economic turmoil that will rank as one of the worst in our country’s history.  The Tea Party is a movement fueled by general frustration with government and the direction of the country.  As such, where, exactly, is the surprise that the Tea Party movement would be viewed favorably by roughly half the electorate?

This is especially unsurprising given that:

a.  Roughly half of the country tends, over time, to vote Republican and Republicans are out of power at the moment.  As such, a movement that is angry at Democratically controlled Washington has a pretty good automatic base of favorability to begin with.  Beyond that, the 35% figure for people who “support” and not just “favor” the movement tracks pretty well with the number of people who identify as conservatives.  As such, I am not sure what the big new is that conservatives want less spending and lower taxes, and that they don’t like President Obama or the federal government.

b.  The movement lacks a clear leader for people to like or dislike.  This helps general favorability.  Further, they have zero elected officials at the moment to be a disappointment to the faithful.

c.  More important than 1b, the movement lacks a clear policy program.  We know that it is against government waste, government overspending, and is in favor of fiscal sanity.  Of course this begs the question: who isn’t?  The devil of what those things mean is very much in the details.

2)  Being “the most popular force in American politics” these days isn’t difficult, given the lousy view of the two political parties that most American have at the moment.

The column concludes with the following, emphasis mine:

To underestimate the importance of a movement that has fundamentally altered American politics and will almost certainly affect both the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election would be the most profound mistake of all.

I will readily allow that the Tea Party movement has been of some significance to this point in time and will continue to have salience going into 2010 (and perhaps 2012), but to claim that it has “fundamentally altered American politics” is utter nonsense, insofar as to date all that it has done is affect a handful of GOP nomination processes.  This is interesting, to be sure.  It may also mean various behavioral changes by the GOP in the short-to-medium term, but it is a far cry from a fundamental alteration of much of anything.

For further reading on this subject, see the CSM‘Tea party’ is polarizing, but has many ‘closet admirers,’ poll finds.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Tea Party, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Oh, I would regard it as a very real force, and one that may have a significant effect for quite awhile, partly depending on whether someone can reign it back into the Republican Party in the future.
     
    But the most important point, by far, is your statement:

    Further, they have zero elected officials at the moment to be a disappointment to the faithful.

    Precisely.  Let’s see what happens when they hit the real world.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    If you were more familiar with the people involved in the Tea Party movement rather than just what you read or hear from the MSM, you would probably have a different opinion. And that is precisely why so many politicians are going into unplanned retirement – they don’t get it either.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    I answered a telephone poll on the topic of the tea party several weeks ago, lest anyone think that telephone polls are only responded to be aging white men with landlines, without social lives, who get most of their political information from questionable sources on the Internet.  Hey wait a minute . . .

    I did answer that I did not know what the tea party stood for.  I didn’t think the group was partly racially motivated, but I didn’t think critics were without basis to question the issue of race.  (subtext:  some of your signs are kind of scary dudes)  I said that I was neither more likely, nor less likely to be influenced in my vote by a perceived identification with the tea party movement.

  4. Brian Knapp says:

    Yeah – there are and have been a lot of self-identified libertarians and probably more than half, if not all, of the country would view libertarianism favorably (depending upon their policy de jure).

    But how much have libertarians affected policy?  And they have dedicated literature, think tanks, actual writings, identifiable leaders, and cogent philosophies.  At best they nudge public opinion to a certain small extent, but not much more than liberal celebrities do.

  5. ponce says:

    I heard two Tea Party “leaders” debating on NPR this morning.
     
    One said if the Tea Party doesn’t fight Same Sex Marriage and abortion soon all the social cons will quit the movement.
     
    The other said the Tea Party is just about shrinking government and the social cons should piss off.
     
    It’s easy to be popular when people think you represent them.
     
    But how long can they maintain that illusion?

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    The Tea Party is a autonomous branch of the Republican party and will wield it’s power through them.  It has influenced the primaries and is guiding the Republicans toward genuine fiscal conservatism.  In the past fiscal conservatism led to Republican loses at the polls so they drifted away.  The unprecedented levels of spending and debt is forcing citizens and their elected representatives to take more risks and work toward controlling spending.  More importantly I expect them to better understand the key is to promote rather than impede American business.  It is the engine that drives our prosperity and can eventually provide us with the means to reduce our debt.
     
    It’s too early to say what long term effect the Tea Party will have.  Those who makes those predictions are either selling books or selling themselves.  The long term effect of our current spending and debt levels could certainly continue to provide fuel for such a movement.

  7. If you were more familiar with the people involved in the Tea Party movement rather than just what you read or hear from the MSM, you would probably have a different opinion.

    Feel free to enlighten us.

  8. Vast Variety says:

    The Tea Party also appears (right or wrong) to be very much against the ideas of Religious liberty for anyone that doesn’t follow their religion and anti individual liberty for anyone who isn’t a social conservative.

  9. wr says:

    SPlunk — Now that we’re getting close to the elections, I wish someone would start actually saying what the Tea Party would do, rather than speaking in platitudes. Sure, fiscal conservatism — but what do you want them to do about it? Are you in favor of slashing Medicare, SS or the military? You want policies that “promote” business — does this mean wiping out regulations? Which ones? Do you want to abolish the EPA? Let the banks go back to regulating themselves? Should we get rid of the minimum wage and mandatory overtime? Wipe out OSHA?

    Seriously, it’s easy to gain support when all you have is generalities. What exactly do you want these TPers to do once in office?

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  11. sam says:

    lest anyone think that telephone polls are only responded to be aging white men with landlines, without social lives, who get most of their political information from questionable sources on the Internet. Hey wait a minute . . .
     

    Yeah, hey wait a minute is right.

  12. sam says:

    Via Todd Zywicki over at Volokh, I’ve become aware of an interesting article by Jonathan Rauch, How Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders (http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/cs_20100911_8855.php). It’s an interesting article. He argues that the Tea Party represents an emerging  paradigm in political organizing in the US. He thinks it’ll be transformative. I’m not so sure. I think its endurance will depend on the degree of political success it has if Tea Party supported candidates are elected to Congress. And if the TPers are not co-opted by the system, that is, seduced by the Republican leadership with the promise of committee goodies, etc. I recall the “success” of the term-limits movement, until those advocating term limits were actually, you now, having a term.

  13. john personna says:

    Wait a minute, is that Lipton even grown in America?

  14. All I can say for sure is that it is 100% natural!

  15. Gerry W. says:

    How about having a middle class party? I don’t see where Palin, Romney, Huckabee, Hannity, Limbaugh, Fox, O’Donnell and the rest of the bunch speaks for the average working guy. Just saying.

  16. Herb says:

    Steve,
    You crack me up.  Intensely skeptical of anything non-Republican and way too credulous about anything Republican.

    “It has influenced the primaries and is guiding the Republicans toward genuine fiscal conservatism.”

    “Genuine fiscal conservatism?”  The Republican party likes to say they’re for “genuine fiscal conservatism,” but actions speak louder than words.  In the last ten years, Republicans have spent more of my money than Democrats.   They had the “power of the purse” during most of the aughts, and what did they choose to spend my money on?  Faith-based programs, no-bid contracts, foreign invasions, you know, the really important stuff.
     
    You want genuine fiscal conservatism?   Do us all a favor:  Instead of voting for your favorite right-wing candidate, who’s just going to rip us off as much as the hated Dems, just stay home.

  17. john personna says:

    Steve Plunk has inspired me to write a metaphor.  It goes like this:
     
    A guy thinks he can improve his personal economy and so he borrows money to learn a new trade.  He completes that, gets a car, an apartment, and starts his new work.  The thing is, the money he’s making isn’t enough to cover the school loan, the car payments, the apartment AND utilities, food.  So each month he gets a little further in debt.  He calls the Mild Beverage Credit Counselors and they give him this advice “don’t go back to school again, and you should be fine.”
     
    That’s the Tea Party message.  Don’t do any more stimulus and the budget will balance .. even with tax cuts.  But it won’t.  To fix deficit and debt you’ve got to cut forward-spending.  Or, you’ve got to get a raise (for the government, that means higher taxes).

  18. Steve Plunk says:

    herb, I’m glad to bring levity to your day but I will vote as usual.
     
    jp,  American business is the key to recovery.  Government can’t make happen they can only keep it from happening.  It’s funny how government is the only sector still getting raises, still spending, and still acting clueless.  Tea Party members understand that fact.

  19. wr says:

    Steve Plunk — You might say that government is the only sector that still cares about its workforce and doesn’t treat them as disposable objects to be exploited until they’re useless and tossed away. Some people see that as a feature, not a bug.

  20. Herb says:

    herb, I’m glad to bring levity to your day but I will vote as usual.

    Well, at least you can admit to being part of the problem….

  21. sam says:

    “Government can’t make happen they can only keep it from happening. It’s funny how government is the only sector still getting raises, still spending, and still acting clueless. Tea Party members understand that fact.”
     
    Perhaps they do (though I’ve seen no evidence that Christine does). However, Daniel Larison makes a very good point:

    When it comes to talking about the midterms, there is a desire to find a unifying national theme to explain what is happening in the country. If there is any theme, it is that in pretty much every case the election has gone to the candidate that has paid the most attention to local issues and frames his positions on national policy questions according to how they affect his district or state. http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2010/09/16/the-massachusetts-senate-race-revisited/
     

    If the Tea Party candidates cannot translate their distaste with national policies into policy prescriptions that resonate with local voters in terms of local issues, they might be in for rough sledding in November. I don’t think you can just on Washington Sucks. The voters might (will) say, yeah it sucks, but what are you going to do for me?

  22. john personna says:

    Let’s open this up and make it not about SteveP.  For the federal deficit to close, and for the debt to be paid down, taxes collected must cover expenses paid.  You can do that by cutting spending, or by raising taxes.
     
    We know the Tea Party isn’t going to raise taxes, so their new “fiscal sanity” sound-bite must be about cutting spending.  Have they said, anywhere, how they can rack up enough billions to make that work?
     
    Show me a Republican who want us out of Afghanistan and has a budget an accountant can love, and he might get my vote.  I’m not hearing that right now.

  23. john personna says:

    BTW, Chris Matthews is getting a kick today out of playing “shut down the government” calls by right-Republicans.  Shutting down might be fine, if they had a plan to go with it.  Sign here, they might say, or we’ll shut down government.
     
    But the don’t have a plan.  It’s an idiot’s shutdown, with no phase 2.

  24. Herb says:

    PS, Steve, this:

    It’s funny how government is the only sector still getting raises, still spending, and still acting clueless.

    Untrue.  Now I know there’s a dramatic correlation between “right-wing partisan” and “people who are willing to believe untrue things,” but seriously….I can not believe you can be that clueless.
     
    The “only sector?”   What a joke.

  25. Herb says:

    Let’s open this up and make it not about SteveP.

    Yeah, good call.  But you ask:

    Have they said, anywhere, how they can rack up enough billions to make that work?

    I answer:  With voters like SteveP, they don’t have to say how they can make that work.

  26. ponce says:

    “We know the Tea Party isn’t going to raise taxes”
     
    How many Senate Tea Partiers are there on the ballot this November?
     
    Even if they all won (highly unlikely) they just be a small far-right fringe caucus.
     
    How can they do anything?

  27. PD Shaw says:

    john personnna, the credit agent’s advise sounds good if projected income growth will eventually be enough to pay off back debt and interest.

    So, the question becomes is U.S. gdp growth enough?  Are their policies that would help make it enough?

  28. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    How about having a middle class party? I don’t see where Palin, Romney, Huckabee, Hannity, Limbaugh, Fox, O’Donnell and the rest of the bunch speaks for the average working guy. Just saying.

    Each of these individuals have their roots in the working class. They all gained their success the old-fashioned way – by working hard for it.

  29. wr says:

    The fact that some of them came out of the middle class — Romney was about as middle class as W — doesn’t mean they give a damn about anyone who’s struggling today. I’d rather have a Teddy Kennedy, who came from great wealth and felt obligated to help those less well off, than a Rush Limbaugh, who came from nothing and has contempt for anyone who hasn’t made it to his level.

  30. anjin-san says:

    > I expect them to better understand the key is to promote rather than impede American business.
    Statements like this always seem to come from people who do not sound qualified to be an assistant manager at at 7-11.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Patrick do you have even a small clue who Romney’s old man was? Is ignorance an absolute pre-requisite to be a tea party dude? His working class roots are about as legit as your MENSA membership card…

  32. Gerry W. says:

    Well Patrick, when I see such devastation in my town and across the middle class, I have not heard on word on our lost jobs. All I have heard is God and country, gay marriages, abortions, gun rights, the constitution, cutting spending, and tax cuts-in which we had years of. But somehow, they miss the real issue of jobs and the middle class. I get the funny feeling that this time and the next time one or more are voted in, it will be more ignorance, arrogance, and ideology. So far they have said nothing to the middle class.

  33. sam says:

    @Pat
    “They all gained their success the old-fashioned way”
     
    Uh, O’Donnell doesn’t look too successful, what with the foreclosure, the law suit over unpaid college tuition, etc. Your bar’s kind low, ain’t it? (Not much of a surprise, there.)
     
     

  34. john personna says:

    PD:
     

    So, the question becomes is U.S. gdp growth enough?  Are their policies that would help make it enough?

     
    Isn’t that what Steve V’s thread “The Risk of a Fiscal Crisis” is about?  If I understand it correctly, with the CBO’s growth estimates (for both spending and revenues) there is a broadening gap.

  35. john personna says:

    FWIW, as I wake up a little more, I should say that while I’m optimistic about the US economy in the long term, I’ve never been one to budget based on future income.  I sized my mortgage for the money I made, and not the money I hoped to make.
     
    Isn’t the answer that we should just grow more a little like the bad economic decisions people made in the credit bubble, with their own finances?  They borrowed too much, and hoped it would work out.  At the same time their government spent too much, and hoped it would work out.
     
    I’ve said before that this credit-love seems to cut across our society.  People didn’t ask more of their government than they asked of themselves.  In both cases, they didn’t really ask for enough of that “fiscal sanity.”

  36. Steve Plunk says:

    jp,  Besides raising taxes or cutting spending there is a third way.  Raise tax revenue without raising tax rates.  A vibrant economy would do just that.
     
    I’m glad some are trying to make it not about me.  Going after the messenger i stead of the message makes a boring exchange.
     
    anjin, Baseless insults are becoming increasingly common from you, what’s up?  I know things look bad for November but we should keep it civil.  BTW, my company’s million dollar payroll is far from a 7-11’s.

  37. anjin-san says:

    Steve – It’s a little difficult to take you seriously as someone with any actual business expertise when you make complete nonsense statements such as “It’s funny how government is the only sector still getting raises, still spending”.  My “insult” is hardly baseless, your own comments color you  a nitwit.

    Do you have anything to offer besides arguments that are simply factually wrong and vague platitudes about how Democrats are somehow bad for business and the tea party somehow good?

  38. john personna says:

    Steve Plunk, as I said, the CBO estimates in Steve Verdon’s post include economic growth estimates.
     
    It’s a wing and a prayer to say “maybe the CBO is wrong.”

  39.  
    The Tea Parties are, in many ways, an empty vessel–different groups see them as representing their beliefs or interests.  Libertarians and small-government types routinely perceive the Tea Parties as advancing their interests.  Social conservatives likewise see the TPs as advancing THEIR interests.  And both groups like to believe that they, unlike establishment Republicans (who have been pushing these tropes for years, but generally doing other things when elected, will actually ENACT these agenda items.
    (Bush, after all, did little to cut spending while in office (and did the opposite), and showed little interest in social conservative issues beyond as a political wedge.  No legislation to try and overturn Roe, oppose gay marriage, etc.)

    In many ways, the TPs are similar to the Obama campaign.  While Obama wasn’t really an empty vessel–he was pretty clear on how he would try and govern, and on many issues hasn’t surprised–he was often mocked as such during the campaign–indeed, there are many disillusioned Democrats who seem to think that Obama would be a “transformative leader”–the magical unity pony–and are bummed that he’s not.  TPers, should they win some power, may find a similar disilliusionment–much of the agenda the TPers want simply will not happen, and some of it is contradictory.
    But hey–nothing would help Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 (and the chances of congressional Dems) than two years of a GOP-controlled house passing bills to do things like ban gay marriage, only to be smacked down by the Senate.

  40. Gerry W. says:

    The sad part is that we have to waste our time with this Tea Party idiocy while China moves on to be the number one power. There are decisions that should have been made 10, 20, and 30 years ago to have moved our country forward and we watch our country go down the drain with rhetoric and failed ideologies.

  41. cleek says:

    damn straight.
    the tea party is merely rebranded Republicanism: a way for the party faithful to pretend they aren’t responsible for the results of previous GOP governance.
    it’s a brilliant marketing campaign, but substance-wise it’s the same old Republicanism. the only people fooled are the media.