The ‘Tea Party’ is very real and will have a big impact on this year’s election and beyond - but it is important to correctly characterize this movement. The Tea Party is a grass-roots, intensely ideological, conservative Republican movement, fired up by Fox News and Glenn Beck. It is not remotely an independent or populist revolt against the elites or a working class revolt rooted in frustration with the recession, Wall Street and government.

Popular accounts describe it as a populist revolt against elites. Richard Viguerie at a tax day rally said, “The tea parties are an unfettered new force of the middle class tapping into the anger [at] most major American institutions such as Wall Street, education, Hollywood, the media, big labor.” And Matt Bai in The New York Times writes, "the only potent grass-roots movement to emerge from this moment of dissatisfaction with America's economic elite exists … in the form of the so-called Tea Party rebellions that are injecting new energy into the Republican cause."

Tea Party Special Report

Key Findings

While many of the Tea Party supporters are also frustrated with the Republican Party of TARP bailouts, that does not alter the character of the movement:

  • 86 percent of Tea Party supporters and activists identify with or lean to the Republican Party.
  • 79 percent identify as conservatives.
  • They are among the most pro-big business segments of the electorate: 54 percent rate it warmly and 20 percent coolly.
  • The Tea Party movement is not particularly blue collar. Tea Party supporters are slightly less likely to be college-graduates than the likely electorate (41 percent, versus 45 percent), and the activists more so (48 percent). And 85 percent of the supporters are white.
  • Only 5 percent report having voted for Obama in 2008.

With Tea Party supporters comprising one in four (25 percent) likely voters and one in ten (10 percent) active as donors or attending rallies, what they think matters:

  • They are fired up - 94 percent of the supporters say they are almost certain to vote.
  • They share a great disdain for President Obama, with over 92 percent disapproving of Obama’s performance, and 89 percent strongly. Only 6 percent think Obama ‘shares their values.’
  • They share a coherent, anti-government, conservative ideology that wants small government, little spending and returning the country to the Constitution.
  • They are united against “Obama’s Socialist Agenda” - that puts the country gravely at risk.
  • They deeply identify with Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the NRA - which share their worldview - re-enforced by the echo-chamber of Fox News, their main source of news.
  • They are gaining energy from the prospect that they can stop Obama in this year’s election, save the party from fake conservatives and use the Republican Party to save the Constitution.

The Tea Party supporters are a blessing for the Republican Party in this off-year challenge to the Democrats, but in important ways, they have become the Republican Party. Almost half of self-identified Republicans (47 percent) are strong Tea Party supporters who have already played an outside role in punishing Republican moderates and producing a unified, polarizing, and unpopular national Republican Party. The Tea Party is not very popular outside the Republican Party and Republican-leaning independents, and Beck and Palin even less so.

And in a presidential year, strong Tea Party supporters are only 21 percent of the larger electorate.

We do not know the long-term consequences of such a motivated, ideologically coherent bloc in the electorate. They could contribute to a 1964 Goldwater-type landslide re-election for President Obama in 2012. But their coherence could bleed over to conservative independents - if economic problems persist and Democrats and progressives are ideologically opaque or lack a clear political project - perhaps producing an election more like 1968.


This special report is based on findings from questions asked by Democracy Corps about Tea Party supporters and related questions in our last three national polls from April to June, which identified 652 strong supporters and 243 activists. Furthermore, this data is supplemented by released research conducted by Citizen Opinion on four focus groups of Tea Party supporters and activists in Ft. Lauderdale and Phoenix, each location home to a dramatic Senate race pitting an establishment Republican candidate against an outsider who appeals to Tea Party supporters.

Source: Stanley B. Greenberg, Peyton M. Craighill, Kate Monninger

Client: Democracy Corps