Study: Just 13% of Voters Are Tea Baggers – And Their Anti- Establishment Rage Fails to Connect with 72% of Americans

art-obamcare-posterNews coverage of tea baggers’ protest rallies has given them the appearance of a groundswell movement sweeping the nation. Pundits regularly cite them as dominant players in the coming elections. Recently, the Republican establishment has started courting them. Last week, addressing a crowd of John McCain supporters in Arizona, Sarah Palin said, “Everyone here today supporting John McCain, we are all part of that Tea Party movement.” Former Vice Pres. Dan Quayle recently described them as Pres. Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority” who were “silent no more.” Not surprisingly, all the attention has given tea baggers an inflated sense of their importance which they project by routinely exaggerating the crowd sizes at their rallies.

And yet, despite all Sturm und Drang, a new Quinnipiac poll finds that just 13 percent of the electorate claims to be affiliated with tea party groups. Paradoxically, given the tea baggers’ propensity for racism, 13 percent is roughly same size as the African-American electorate.

Some statistics from the survey are unsurprising:

  • 74 percent are Republicans or independent voters leaning Republican
  • 5 percent are solidly independent
  • 88 percent are white (but no details are provided on the ethnic break-out of the non-white members)
  • While only 33 percent of all voters have a favorable opinion of Sarah Palin, among tea baggers 72 percent have a favorable opinion of her
  • 77 percent voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008

(We’d like to see the percentage of tea baggers who voted for George Bush — the man most responsible for the American economic collapse and waste of blood and treasure they are so upset about — and would bet it’s the same or higher than the 77 percent who voted for McCain.)

But a few factoids from the survey go against the media narrative about members of the group:

  • 16 percent are Democrats or independent voters leaning Democratic
  • 15 percent voted for President Barack Obama
  • 45 percent are men/55 percent are women

The poll also found that while 28 of voters have a favorable view of tea baggers (but note that this number must include the tea baggers themselves), and 23 percent view them unfavorably, the vast majority of Americans — 49 percent — say they don’t know enough about the group to form an opinion. The takeaway here is that 72 percent of the country either rejects or has failed to connect with the tea baggers’ anti-establishment rage.

The remaining 28 percent is an interesting and familiar number in American politics. It is a bit larger than the 23 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans. In 1974, it was roughly the same percentage of Americans who said they still supported Pres. Richard Nixon when he resigned the presidency in disgrace. It is also close to the number who still supported George W. Bush when he left office in 2009.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that normal Americans don’t “know enough about the group,” per se, since stories about tea baggers and their antics have dominated the news — across the full spectrum, from corporate outlets like the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, CNN and broadcast news to right-wing propaganda sources like Fox News and hate radio and even liberal news and opinion sites like Pensito Review — for over a year now. It’s more likely that the confusion arises from the incoherence of the tea baggers’ messaging.

Unlike real protest groups — the ones that are antiwar, anti-abortion or pro-civil rights, etc. — tea baggers do not have a central unifying objective (or one they’ll admit too, at least). Reinforcing this, a Bloomberg poll released late last week found that tea baggers fervently hold beliefs that are diametrically contradictory:

…More than 90 percent of Tea Party backers say the U.S. is verging toward socialism, but 70 percent want a federal government that fosters job creation, but 90 percent say the country is on the wrong track and Washington can’t find solutions, but more than 80 percent say expansion of the government’s role in the economy is a high threat, but almost half say the government should do something about executive bonuses on Wall Street.

Quinnipiac found similar confusion within tea bagger ranks:

Government does too many things better left to businesses and individuals, 54 percent of all voters say, while 42 percent say government is not doing enough. Tea Party members say 83 – 15 percent that government is doing too much.

Tea baggers put their internal confusion — or obfuscation — about their objectives on display every time they hold a rally. At real protest rallies, you’d expect to see participants carrying signs bearing messages related to their central cause — opposition to war or abortion or support of the environment or gay rights, for example.

At tea bagger rallies, what you see is a cacophony of messages on signs opposing all sorts of things, leaving the impression, at best, that tea baggers are anti-establishment. At worst, what you see in the signs is that what unifies them is not opposition to a policy or ideology but rather against one man: Pres. Obama.

And this prompts the question: None of the crises the United States is facing started on the president’s watch, so where were these protesters — and where was their rage — when George Bush was president?

3 Comments

  • GarryInNola
    March 29, 2010 - 10:13 am | Permalink

    And I think their opposition to Barack Obama is largely race-related. Based on the posters they carry and slogans they shout, they just can’t seem to accept an African-American president no matter who he is or what he stands for. As such I fervently hope that they will never become a dominant force in U.S. politics.

  • March 29, 2010 - 5:46 pm | Permalink

    GWB, Rove, Cheney, et al., had their azzez intimidated and too afraid to open their mouths. Based on my observations, it seems to me that the tea partiers have to have someone to tell them what to do/think and how to behave. FreedumbWuks sends out an email, and they comply. The August town halls are a great example of this in action.

  • JS
    March 30, 2010 - 11:53 am | Permalink

    Vandalism at the democratic headquarters in Alaska and the dems there think it was inspired by Palin, coincidence – the fact about the home in Alaska that was vandalized, by several teenagers, including and possibly led by Palin’s daughter. (Read on DU)

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