February 17th, 2010
01:12 PM ET
5 years ago

CNN Poll: Who are the Tea Party activists

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday profiles the Tea Party movement.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday profiles the Tea Party movement.

Washington (CNN) – Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday also indicates that Tea Party activists would vote overwhelmingly Republican in a two-party race for Congress. The party's GOP leanings, the poll suggests, may pose a problem for the Tea Party movement if it tries to turn itself into a third party to compete with the two major parties in this year's general election.

Full poll results [PDF]

"If the Tea Party runs its own candidates for U.S. House, virtually every vote the Tea Party candidate gets would be siphoned from the GOP candidate, potentially allowing the Democrats to win in districts that they might have otherwise lost," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "While the concept of an independent third party is extremely popular, most Americans, including most Tea Party supporters, don't favor a third party that would result in a winner who disagrees with them on most major issues."

According to the survey, roughly 11 percent of all Americans say they have actively supported the Tea Party movement, either by donating money, attending a rally, or taking some other active step to support the movement. Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas.

Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans, and more than three in four call themselves conservatives.

"Keep in mind that this is a pretty small sample of Tea Party activists," notes Holland. "But even taking that into account, the demographic gaps that the poll finds between those activists and the general public on gender, education, income, ideology, and voting behavior appear to be significant differences."

The poll indicates that about 24 percent of the public generally favors the Tea Party movement but has not taken any actions such as donating money or attending a rally. Adding in the 11 percent who say they are active, a total of 35 percent could be described as Tea Party supporters. That larger group is also predominantly male, higher-income, and conservative.

Some 45 percent of all Americans say they don't know enough about the Tea Party to have a view of the movement; one in five say they oppose the Tea Party.

According to the survey, most Tea Party activists describe themselves as Independents.

"But that's slightly misleading, because 87 percent say they would vote for the GOP candidate in their congressional district if there were no third-party candidate endorsed by the Tea Party," says Holland.

So what would happen if the Tea Party supported independent candidates for Congress?

The poll indicates that in a two-way race on the so-called "generic ballot" question, GOP candidates have a 47 percent to 45 percent edge. Throw a Tea Party candidate into the mix, and that two-point advantage becomes a 12-point deficit. That's because virtually everyone who would vote for a Tea Party candidate in a three-way contest would choose a Republican in a two-way race. The Democratic candidate gets 45 percent in both scenarios, but the GOP candidate's share of the vote drops from 47 percent in a two-way contest to just 33 percent with a Tea Party candidate on the ballot.

"Historically, that's the problem many political movements have faced if they try to become a full-fledged party. They often wind up ensuring the victory of the candidate they dislike the most," adds Holland.

Sixty-four percent of all Americans say they like the idea of a third party that would run against the Democrats and Republicans. But only 38 percent would support a third party if its presence on the ballot would mean that the winning candidate is one that disagrees with them on most major issues. According to the poll, Tea Party activists feel the same way: Only 4 in 10 favor a third party that would result in the election of candidates they don't like.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted by telephone February 12-15, with 1,023 adult Americans, including 124 respondents who said they had taken active steps to support the Tea Party, such as donating money or attending a rally self. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points and plus or minus 9 percentage points for Tea Party activists only.

– CNN's Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report


Filed under: CNN poll • Popular Posts • Tea Party movement
soundoff (475 Responses)
  1. CF

    "Tea Party activists are people like me – patriots who are fed up with the Feds! "

    But you aren't fed up with the Feds when it's a white conservative in charge, only when it happens to be black Democrat - and one who is far less intrusive on your life, freedom, and money than the last one of "you" that was in the white house, despite what you've been fed by the misinformers you blindly follow.

    February 17, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  2. Aaron Seattle

    SocialismBad: Over taxed???? Really???? According to MY research it is the "Liberal" coast lines which pay more in taxes which then goes to the federal gov't to help the rural "Conservative" states, pay for...oh your roads, infrastructure, education, medicare, and various other social programs. If you are over-taxed, yet this country has consistently functioned on a deficit for years, then I ask you.... When do we actually really start getting taxed in order to pay off this outlandish deficit the Bush administration has so graciously bestowed upon us after all the TAX CUTS and WARS??????
    All I can say is Bring IT!

    February 17, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  3. liviapeacock

    All I want is for one self described Tea Bagger to explain to me where he was during the Bush years, when Bush expanded our federal government and created a 1.3 TRILLION dollar deficit.

    Until then, I will continue to beleive that they are frightened racist bigots that can't stand the idea of blacks, women, Latinos and Asians moving up in THEIR world.

    February 17, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  4. eds

    they forgot to "report" white and racist... Bush spent the dickens out of all our pockets, and destabilized the whole country, and much of the world. they forgot to complain about him....
    Obama has done OK given what he is up against. Congress is doing him and his agenda no favors. Pelosi is a divisive force against any kind of diplomacy and compromise. It is a shame to see Obama has yet to be able to hurdles of partisism in both parties.
    The tea party is a bleaming joke. How fitting Palin is their pretty face. Idiots all.
    the tea baggers are emblematic of the horrid attitude of entitlement and lack of responsibility that is growing more and more pronounced with each generation. We want to stay rich, and have all the fluff, but pay for none of it.... F*&% the rest who we make suffer (gee, sounds like the slave owners of years past now, doesn't it).

    February 17, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  5. Scott Davis

    Unfortunately for the Republican Party, the 'liberals and bureaucrats' that need to be cleaned out of Washington are Conservatives that let the Bush Presidency run this country into the ground by cutting taxes, starting two wars that were unpaid for and running up the largest national debt in history.

    What we need is some Democrats to bring fiscal responsibility back to government. I realize that there is a 'myth' that the Republicans are fiscally conservative, but we all saw what they really were in the last administration, deficit building, free-spending, irresponsible politicians that cannot be trusted with our money.

    Let's get some real fiscal conservatism back in our government and follow President Obama's lead and pay as we go.

    February 17, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  6. sharon

    so................they would take votes away from the gop.......and this is a bad thing because???????????????????????????????

    February 17, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  7. CF

    "We're not limited to one locale or income classification or political party. "

    Funny, this poll proves otherwise.

    February 17, 2010 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  8. Dwayne

    ...a bunch of people who can't think for themselves so they have to gather a bunch of people, who can't spell and act more like lynchmob, just to think of a name for a movement that they had to take from another real movement called "The Boston Tea Party" Which really served it's purpose until the early 1990's.

    February 17, 2010 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  9. KMAN

    Teabagger=FAR RIGHT REPUBLICAN ... always has and always will ... who are these right-winged wackos trying to fool? They have no direction, no grassroots and no meaningful solutions, but they are entertaining to watch as they show the rest of us what silly asses they truly are by picking Sarah Palin as their shrill voice of empty redundancy!

    February 17, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  10. Doug - Dallas

    Hard working, conservative, largely college educated and WHITE. Looking at the pictures from Nashville; all white. Where were you when Bush & Cheney were destroying this country and the Republican House & Senate were spending like drunkin sailors? No question we have problems to solve in this country, but the Tea Party members don't have practical solutions and are really a fringe element.

    February 17, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  11. Tom L.

    It's ironic to me that the only ones who mention race are liberals.

    February 17, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  12. Dave

    Tea party activists can prove their mettle by signing a declaration that neither they nor their families will ever avail of Medicare, Social Security and Public Schooling. Nobody on the lunatic fringe has asked that Medicare be handed over to private insurance companies and that their SS income be handed over to Wall Street sharks. It sure must seem nice to be a parasite feeding off Government programs(Medicare and Social Security) while vehemently protesting against the same program (Medicare) being made available to all honest tax-paying Americans. I haven't heard a single Republican demand that Medicare and Medicaid be scrapped. And for those rednecks that oppose a public option, please ask your equally redneck Senator or Congressman, why you cannot have the same health coverage that he/she does.

    February 17, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  13. NYDavud

    Its funny how the "conservative" movement purports to be behind freedom and yet the previos "commpassionate conservative" president took away more rights then anyone else. Oh, and he also spent a lot of money, too!
    NY-David

    February 17, 2010 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  14. rs

    I might question the education thing. I recently spoke with a local Tea Party activist who dresses like Lady Liberty and "protests" on street corners. She was rabidly anti-immigrant and failed to see why I thought she was a joke. I had to explain to her that the Statue of Liberty welcomed immigrants to Ellis Island.

    February 17, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  15. Torch

    I can see that some of the people with Tea Party derangement syndrome cannot get off the race card.

    You fools, this has nothing to do with race! Tea Party people don't care what color the president is, they just can't stand his policies!

    That is such a weak and pathetic excuse. Tea party bashers are the real racists in this group.

    Why can't the Democrats understand that America is not buying what they are selling? Instead, we get to be called racists, because they can't think of anything intelligent to say.

    February 17, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  16. Publius13

    You folks are paying way too much attention to this so-called movement. This is simply the American Party (a/k/a the Know-Nothings") transplanted to the 21st Century. It will come to the same end as the AP and the Whigs. I also suggest that you retake your poll and use a larger sample. Note that the "all respondents" are 79% composed of rural and suburban. That is not reality today. Moreover, the 91% rural/suburban composition of the TEA partiers does not mesh with known overall educational levels for rural/suburban demographics. Urban/suburban Americans overwhelmingly comprise the college educated in this country. But when all is said and done, the TEA partiers are simply the far right wing of the GOP. And we knew that already.

    February 17, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  17. Justin

    These people are just embarrassed they lost the last election so badly. They are not against politics as they stand, they are against the party that one. Simple as that and not fooling anyone.

    February 17, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. Laverne

    Why can't Americans think for themselves and do their homework on issues before they go yelling and screaming off with Obama head! It is disturbing the level of ignorance people in this country are showing. People are saying everyone is just angry at Washington for everything that is going on. News Flash: What's going on in Washington is not new AT ALL! The truth of the matter is the anger is coming from the fact that SOME feel like "Their" country have been taken away by a black man who have no right to this country anyway. Let's call a spade and spade and not pretending it's about something else. At the end of the day if our country go to hell in a hand basket it better be a white man!

    February 17, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. CT

    Liberals and Right Wing Activists are nuts. You are tearing this country apart. The overwhelming majority of Americans are moderates for either party. The only difference is a handful of political views. But how is it that the Left and Right have a bigger voice then the rest of us?

    February 17, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Tell the truth

    We are people who are sick and tired of the status quo in DC. The state-run media would have everyone believe what they are reporting but the truth is America's grassroots are all sizes, colors, religions and genders. We love our country and hate to see it destroyed. Our children and grandchildren will pay a price that is beyond comprehension!

    I agree: "We're not limited to one locale or income classification or political party. We're simply hard-working citizens who have been playing by the rules. And after all these decades of voting for people we thought would take care of our country, we've now realized that they were only looking out for themselves."

    It is true that "all that it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

    February 17, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. Heather from Beautiful Seattle

    I think a few demographics may have been omitted like almost all tea party members are white and older Americans. The memebers are the people that can be seen as complaining about a socialist agenda meanwhile enjoying their socialized medicare and social security meanwhile unable to offer any viable solutions. I would place money that this party would still support the notion that the only people that count and should have a say are white men that own land!

    February 17, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. Jay1975

    What many here do not understand is that this movement really began with Bush's TARP policy. That was the straw so to say. If you look at the numbers again, it says that a large majority is educated, which the left always claim is on thier side. How utterly false, the left like the great unwashed to be as ignorant as possible so that they can create the dependency class. The educated and productive do not support lib/prog ideals.

    February 17, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  23. Kate

    Conservatives got us into this mess with the economy. How can the republicans call themselves conservative when they gave GW a blank check for 2 wars.? GW dropped the ball on everything. I don't know who exactly these tea baggers are but I would say they are part of the republican party. Obama is trying very hard to get this country back on track and it won't happen overnight. The tea baggers are lead by Palin who knows nothing about how to govern. I just wouldn't want this woman meeting with world leaders or countries like Iran, North Korea much less straighten out the economy.
    Yes our freedom and liberty are at stake...don't vote conservative, whatever the h...that means. It has lost its meaning!

    February 17, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  24. CF

    "Tea Partiers are those who like to enjoy all that government does for them (like roads, schools, etc) but think that they should not have to pay for any of it."

    Exactly! Why does nobody ever point out that these teabaggers always assemble on PUBLIC roads or in PUBLIC parks or on PUBLIC steps, all paid for by taxes, to denounce paying taxes??

    I am sick of the hypocrisy. People on welfare, food stamps, WIC, medicaid, medicare, and other government assistance, joining the teaparty movement to prevent others from benefitting from the same service! Even Joe the Plumber was on welfare at a point in his life!

    Like someone else mentioned, I guess it doesn't matter once they get "theirs." Typical teaparty/GOP attitude. They want gov't benefits paid to them, but not to anyone else. Pork is bad unless it is a repub wanted it for his home district. Stimulus bill is wrong and evil, but repub will be happy to accept the money and take credit for it and pose with the giant check. Ignorant hypocrisy.

    February 17, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  25. WDM

    According to all the video I've seen the Tea Party is 99% white. I think that CNN left out such a major demographic from their poll is very strange.

    February 17, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
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