Despite being one of the most newsworthy political movements in recent memory, astonishingly little is known about the Tea Party. Thankfully that is changing thanks to a survey of its members conducted by the Winston Group.
The survey compares the attitudes of people who self-identify as part of the tea party movement against other registered voters. The survey suggests that the tea party movement is largely motivated out of economic and fiscal concerns. Kristen Soltis, a Winston Group researcher, notes at the Huffington Post:
But what truly sets the Tea Party apart from even Republicans or conservatives broadly is its commitment to economic conservatism. Tea Party members, like voters overall, are very focused on the economy and jobs; some 36% say it is their top issue. Yet while only 6% of voters overall say that the national deficit and spending are their top issues, that number spikes to 21% among Tea Party members.
The whole report is here. FrumForum went through the report and identified five other noticeable points from the survey, and their possible implications.
1. They really disapprove of Obama. It’s not surprising that the tea party movement disapproves of Obama since the movement is a response to his Presidency. What’s notable is that while 80% of members of the tea party movement disapprove of Obama, the Winston Group’s own survey data suggests that in the general population, the figure is between 44% and 48%. This is on track with other polls such as Gallup.
Implication: The unpopularity that people may direct towards Obama at a tea party rally is not representative of the population as a whole.
2. Immigration may not matter. If Obama decides to tackle immigration reform next, some have wondered what the tea party response would be. Interestingly, it may not be an issue for most rank and file tea party members. When asked whether immigration was an issue that motivated how they voted, tea parties responded that it was just as low on their priority list as the average population. They also gave “cracking down on immigration” as a “best” way to create jobs nearly same weight as the average voter—which is to say, not as much weight as tax cuts or developing energy resources.
Implication: Some have argued that if the Democrats move to immigration reform, that the tea party movement will reveal itself to be driven by anti-immigrant sentiment. The data does not suggest that this should be expected.
3. Fox News Matters (but Talk Radio less so). Tea partiers gave Fox as one of their top two sources of news more often then the average voter. While no one source of media was listed as providing an overwhelming majority of news for tea partiers, Fox News came back with the strongest response, certainly outpacing the average population. Interestingly, while talk radio still polls stronger among tea partiers then the average population, it was not by the same numbers that Fox News did.
Implication: Fox News matters to the tea party movement, so it is important to see how Fox News presents the news to them.
4. They are largely conservative and Republican—with caveats. The data largely backs up the notion that the tea party movement comes from a conservative and Republican background, almost two-thirds of the members would consider themselves Republicans and similar numbers would consider themselves conservative. This does mean that roughly a third of its members identify as either liberal or moderate, but it is hard to dispute who the majority of its members are.
Implication: In The American Conservative, Michael Brendan Dougherty argued: “Despite the real idealism of some of its activists both inside and outside the Beltway, the Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum.” The predominance of Republicans within the movement helps to support this view.
5. The Tea Party Movement is Small. While they are loud and influential, only 16% of registered voters polled said they were a part of the Tea Party movement. This means that when the poll says “80% of the Tea Party disapproves of President Obama” we are talking about 80% of that 16%.
Implication: 16% is not nothing, but it is also not 50%. The Republican Party will inevitably have to incorporate the tea partiers into its election strategies, and it will need to remember that as a share of the population, they are not an overwhelming majority.
The report includes other interesting information about the demographics of the movement as well as its values, and can be downloaded here.
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