With Dick Armey’s resignation from FreedomWorks and the loss of Tea Party favorites Allen West and Joe Walsh in the House of Representatives, the movement’s future is uncertain. At the same time, prominent Republicans are claiming that a Tea Party resurgence is just around the corner. Most notably, Grover Norquist claimed that “Tea Party two is going to dwarf tea party one if Obama pushes us over the [fiscal] cliff.” Where does the Tea Party actually stand amongst Americans? Three observations:
First, in most pollsters’ questions, attitudes toward the Tea Party have either plateaued or dipped slightly. The latest poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation shows that 32% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the movement, while 50% have an unfavorable one. Unfavorable opinions steadily rose throughout 2010 and 2011, but there has been little change in attitudes during 2012.
Second, the number who identify with the Tea Party is comparable in size to another sizable minority in American politics: Liberals. The Associated Press asks people if they are supporters of the Tea Party, a slightly higher bar than the CNN question that asks for a favorable or unfavorable opinion. Twenty-four percent of Americans said that they were supporters of the Tea Party in their last poll, while 23% identified as liberals in the poll.
Third, to give a sense of the size of the Tea Party in electoral terms, support for the Tea Party was roughly comparable to many important demographic groups in the national exit poll. Twenty-one percent of voters said they were supporters of the Tea Party, which compared in size to those with a high school degree or less, non-married women, those who live in a small city or rural area, 18 to 29 year olds, and union households. Tea Party supporters composed almost twice the share of the electorate than Hispanics or Latinos. It’s safe to say that the Tea Party remains a substantial minority.
For a group known for being amorphous and leaderless, people seem to be making too much of the Tea Party’s leadership problems. The movement will probably be hard pressed to expand its size, as opinions have solidified. But it also doesn’t look like it will fade away anytime soon. Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.