Study: Tea Party Is Least Popular Group

Among 24 Groups and Individuals, Including Muslims (20), Atheists (22) and Gays (17), Tea Party Comes in Dead Last – Sarah Palin Rated 23rd
Source: RMS/MSNBC, via David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam
Source: David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam via RMS/MSNBC

Over the past week or so, there has been considerable coverage of the results of new study on the tea party that tracked the rise of the “movement” from 2006.

The tea party is really nothing more than the same racist social conservatives who have been seeking dominion over American politics since the Reagan era.

The first news that came out of the study, which was introduced by its authors — David E. Campbell, an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame, and Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, who are also the co-authors of the book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” — in a New York Times’ piece titled, “Crashing the Tea Party,” was that they found yet more evidence that the most durable myth about the phenomenon — that it is a grassroots uprising of what Profs. Campbell and Putnam called “nonpartisan political neophytes” — is patently false.

To the contrary, their research underscored what many observers have long-suspected — that the tea party is really nothing more than the same racist social conservatives who have been seeking dominion over American politics since the Reagan era.

But there was another finding from the study that is even more damning of the fake grassroots tea party phenomenon — a factor that makes the tea party’s total domination over Republican Party leaders in Congress even more puzzling:

[In] data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow brought this second factor to light in coverage of the study on Monday night. The chart above — which was created by MSNBC (see minute 07:23 in the top video to the right) based on data collected by professors Campbell and Putnam and which we have enhanced for readability — shows the approval ratings of the 24 most familiar, nationally known political groups and personalities, Campbell and Putnam referred to in the New York Times.

In the chart, the tea party is the least popular, ranked at 24, just under Sarah Palin.

Tea Party Least Popular

Interview with Study Co-Author Robert Putnam

Here’s how Rachel Maddow described the findings — the transcript picks up around the 06:40 mark in the top video to the right:

RACHEL MADDOW: The latest New York Times poll reveals the tea party is the most unpopular it has been since they started polling on the tea party’s favorability back in April last year.

The percentage of Americans who think the tea party movement has too much influence within the Republican Party is the highest it has ever been. This New York Times poll squares with most of the other polling out there. A CNN poll released around the same time, again, shows the unfavorability rating of the tea party at the highest point it’s ever been since they started polling on the tea party last year.

The tea party is not just really unpopular as a political group. They are among the least popular groups of any kind of Americans in politics and culture right now. According to data compiled recently by a pair of professors, one from Notre Dame, one from Harvard, the tea party ranks lowest in popularity of any of the 24 separate groups of Americans or individuals who they polled on.

All of these groups you see here are more popular than the tea party with Americans, broadly speaking.

The tea party is more unpopular than Muslims, nothing against Muslims, of course. The tea party is more unpopular than atheists as a group, again, nothing against atheists. Of all the groups in American politics you could conceivably think to ask anybody about — Democrats, Republicans, gay people, liberals, conservatives, Muslims, atheists, all of them, the tea party is the single least-respected, least-liked group in the entire country.

And I do not mean for that to seem ad hominen. I don’t mean this as an insult. I’m reading you the data.

If you asked America, would you want a Muslim president or a tea party president, the data shows that America would pick a Muslim president, not a fake Muslim president, but an actual Muslim president…

[This] does bring us to this question, and it’s an open question because I don’t know the answer to it. If you were the Republican Party and were going to give one of these groups of Americans veto power over who was going to be your presidential nominee — if you were going to declare that there could not be a Republican nominee unless that nominee got these people’s approval first — which of these groups would you — I mean, really? You would give that power to the one at the very, very bottom underneath the atheists?


Minute 09:41:

…You cannot go anywhere in national Republican politics, certainly not in Republican presidential politics, as anything remotely appearing to be centrist. You cannot go anywhere unless you pledge fealty specifically to the tea party.

And who are they, again? They are these guys at the bottom of that list.

Why is that? Mathematically, why is that?

The Beltway explanation for this is that the tea party is such a new phenomenon and so unprecedented, nobody has dealt with anything like this. So there’s maybe just a “fear factor” among politicians, even though they may be very small and very unpopular and getting less popular all the time — even though they are getting more disrespected by most of the American people, politicians are scared of the tea party because the tea party is such a new thing.

But if you care to look at the data about it, instead of just listening to the Beltway jabber about it, the only other thing that is as clear about the tea party right now, as how unpopular and disliked they are — the only thing as clear as that — is how not new they are.

From the people who have been studying these folks over time, and I quote:

Early on tea partiers were often described as non-partisan politic neophytes. Actually, the tea party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the tea party was born. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of tea party support today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being tea party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics … They were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006…

In other words, the tea party is the same old, same old Republican base it has always been. It’s the social conservative movement that we have known about for a very long time. There’s nothing new here. Republicans have been handling the issue of their base and dealing with this problem effectively for years. Why are they so flummoxed by it this year?


  • Robert Post
    August 27, 2011 - 7:56 am | Permalink

    This is surprising, at least the results of the poll. I always new that the Tea Party and the Republican base were one-and-the-same. Rick Perry is the overwhelming favorite among Tea Partiers, and he has vaulted into the lead as a Presidential candidate. Fortunately, Rick is a bonehead and a Confederate. I see a sweeping Democratic victory in 2012.

  • Lisa
    August 27, 2011 - 11:51 am | Permalink

    Tea party is not just republicans. It started generally because people are sick of electing people who go to Washington, join the club and do what the hell they want. Dump them all out! Being an independent I’m glad I’m not so one sided as the trash on here. Take an honest look at who you support based only on party and quit drinking the kool-aid.

    • Madison
      August 27, 2011 - 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Hey Lisa – How many times did you vote for George Bush?

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  • dmnolab
    August 27, 2011 - 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m guessing that if real kool-aid drinkers, those gullible fools at Jonestown, had managed to survive, they would have been the same people voting to re-elect G. W. Bush.

  • August 28, 2011 - 3:28 pm | Permalink

    “Take an honest look at who you support based only on party and quit drinking the kool-aid.”

    Hmmm. Apparently, citing the only available research on the subject is not “taking an honest look,” and trusting scientists is “drinking the kool-aid.”

    I wonder how Lisa feels about global warming, or evolution, or about whether, for example, government revenue goes up when we stop taxing the rich. In my experience, people who have contempt for the facts are pretty much located at one end of the political spectrum. Until she proves differently, I will suspect that Lisa is not being honest with us about her political affiliation.

  • Sian
    August 29, 2011 - 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Shoulda added herpes. The tea party probably would still have come out dead last.

  • NuShrike
    September 6, 2011 - 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t explain why the Tea Party is the MOST-electable by voters, and the highest coverage in the Media (even after removing Fox News).

    Tea Party knows what to say, how to say it, and how to bull-doze through criticism. That seems to attract people, no matter the people’s normal intelligence.

    • September 6, 2011 - 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Tea baggers do not “bull doze” through criticism. They rush to the nearest cameras and proclaim their victimhood.

      They got coverage in 2009 because they regularly made spectacles of themselves by throwing temper tantrums at town hall meetings while cameras were rolling. Plus, after several incidents of gun nuts showing up at political events with loaded weapons, the corporate media could not risk missing it if one of them finally opened fire.

      But the election of a few dozen tea baggers to Congress in 2010 does not make them the “most electable.” And whatever electability they had in 2010 has evaporated now that their approval rating is lower than both Republicans and Democrats. Regular people are fed up with the tea baggers’ juvenile antics, their yearning for America to fail and their loser “can’t do” spirit.

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  • KenZ
    September 13, 2011 - 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Lisa, You’re right. The Tea Party is not just republicans [sic]. It’s the older, whiter, richer subset of the Republican party that typically has its Gov’t Healthcare (Medicare), Gov’t Pension (Social Security), and some money on the side and absolutely does not want anyone else to share in the prosperity of America.

  • Marshall
    September 14, 2011 - 4:37 am | Permalink

    It’s simple, really. The tea-parties are an astroturf movement funded by the usual rich Republican backers, like the Koch brothers. The Republican political establishment is in thrall to the same backers (or, rather, their cash), so it’s no surprise that they are hitched to this wagon.

    Now, many of the tea-partiers themselves would deny that they are astro-turf and don’t think of themselves that way. They are of course being played for fools; a smart political opposition would use that fact to drive a wedge between the tea-partiers and the Republican party itself.

  • fubarific
    September 17, 2011 - 10:43 am | Permalink

    Why hatin’ on atheists?

    We could use a lot more atheists in office in this country.

  • September 17, 2011 - 1:27 pm | Permalink

    If only it were appropriate, fubarific, I’d say, “Amen!”

  • January 22, 2012 - 8:27 pm | Permalink

    bullshit 100% anyone who thinks this is anything other than bias is a moron

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