Researcher and Writer in Washington, DC

Polling the Tea Party

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times and CBS News conducted phone interviews of persons who identify with the Tea Party movement.  The full results, all 41 pages worth, can be viewed freely at http://s3.amazonaws.com/nytdocs/docs/312/312.pdf.

The results are fascinating, at least to a political scientist.  The Tea Party identifiers believe deeply in free markets. An astonishing 92% say the administration of President Barack H. Obama is moving America toward socialism.

They also are seriously concerned about the federal government’s deficits and debt.  Nearly all (92%) claim they would prefer a smaller government that provided fewer services. (73% said they would be o.k. with cutting Social Security, Medicare, education, or defense to achieve this smaller federal government.)

They appear to have a strong anti-redistribution streak—80% were against taxing the very rich to pay for healthcare for the poor.

Yet, they are not purely ideologues on government programs that benefit those who have worked and the elderly:

  • 62% of Tea Party respondents agree that “benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs for taxpayers;” and
  • 59% approve government “requiring health insurance companies to cover anyone who applies for health insurance regardless of whether or not they have an existing medical condition or a prior illness.”

The poll appears to indicate many Tea Party identifiers have jaundiced views of both the poor and immigrants.

  • 73% said  “providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor;”
  • 42% think legal immigration should be reduced; and
  • 82% think illegal immigration is a “very serious” problem.

On the whole, the Tea Party identifiers are not pleased with the federal government.  They are almost uniformly unhappy with Congress and the President:

  • 96% disapprove of the way that Congress is handling its job; and
  • 73% think President Obama “does not understand the needs and problems of people like [themselves]” and 75% think he does not share “the values most Americans try to live by.”

Indeed, their dissatisfaction may be the glue that unites them—53% characterize themselves as angry, and 41% say they are dissatisfied.

In light of the socioeconomic details provided in the poll, it appears that Tea Party identifiers mostly are employed, lower-middle to upper- income persons, and often church-going Caucasians. (Jonathan Raban provides a nice first-person take that substantiates this portrait of Tea Party identifiers as mostly regular Americans (not fringe extremists) in his article, “At the Tea Party,” in the March 25, 2010 issue of the New York Review of Books.)

But, there may be a sizable number of extremists or belligerents in the mix. Nearly one in four says violent action against the government might be justifiable. One wishes the poll further plumbed this issue to see how many thought violence was justified now, and under what circumstances rebellion was righteous.

Perhaps the Tea Party identifiers might be likened to both the Goldwaterites and to the “great, silent majority” who helped propel Richard M. Nixon to the presidency in 1968 and 1972.  Of course, the obvious difference between them and the Tea Party is that the latter is anything but quiescent.

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