February 17th, 2010
01:12 PM ET
4 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. Walter in San Diego

    Who the heck cares?!

    February 17, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  2. Justin

    "Independent" – ha! When the rubber hits the road, these guys will vote party-line GOP and keep on whining when the party fails them.

    As a Democrat, I'd love to see the Tea Party run third-party candidates.
    They won't.

    Just goes to show, like the two major parties, the Tea Party is politics first, principles second. A distant second. They'll make a lot of noise, then vote for the same borrow-and-spend GOPers the established party tells them to.

    February 17, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Who said the Mayans were wrong?

    And I would guess most of their decendents came from England, Ireland,Scottland and Wales and are scared to death they will no longer dominate the landscape.

    February 17, 2010 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. katiec

    With the Tea Party being the laughing stock of America, I hope they do establish a third party, with a Palin/? (whoever would be sucicidal enough to run with her) ticket.
    What a disater that will be, except, it will take votes away from their beloved republican party.

    February 17, 2010 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Full Disclosure

    Enough of the political correctness, a demographic poll should also indicate teabaggers are overwhelmingly Caucasian, which seems no coincidence.

    February 17, 2010 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  6. Marty, Grand Rapids MI

    First of all, shocking. I think everyone already knew this but good that polls match up with expectations. Secondly, third parties need to run in primaries and not the general election.

    February 17, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  7. Michael in Houston

    and how many minorities are in the tea party?

    February 17, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  8. Al-NY,NY

    .....and when they go to Vegas to have their little "convention" (aka Klan meeting), the local escort business and liquor stores will see a huge jump in business. These hypocrites say one thing and do another

    February 17, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  9. Pam from Iowa

    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.
    Most of the member in articles I have seen look like retired folks (makes sense of course since us working stiffs don't have time to go to Nashville!), so many of them probably receive social security payments or use Medicare. Excuse me Tea partiers – those are government programs! So repay all your social security payments and reimburse Medicare!
    If parents of Tea Partiers are getting social security or using Medicare- shame on you for allowing that and not paying for your parents medical needs and financial needs!

    February 17, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  10. the drifter

    Most people can't see the big picture and are only angry because of the short term situation. Obama did what he had to do to clean up the mess left by the tea party's glutinous republican party and he has laid down the foundation for a more fiscally responsible America. He is a patient man. We have rounded the corner and the economy is back on the upswing. These things don't happen overnight.

    In the end, it'll be obvious that the people the tea party were most angry at were actually themselves.

    February 17, 2010 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. Ben Murphy

    I'm very skeptical of the 11% number.

    February 17, 2010 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  12. Dean Wendell

    So...White, Wealthy, Male "Boomers" living in their 16 acre semi-rural ranchettes. Those who rode the economic wave of their generation and can't understand why those who have come after them struggle to survive on the dregs they left behind after sucking the very life out of the US. economy.

    Ahh...but "They got theirs!" That's all that counts.

    Oh..and they will make certain their underachieving "boomer trust babies" will inherit everything. And so it goes.....

    February 17, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. elmerg

    You forgot to mention "primarily white."
    These teabaggers who should have been up in arms over Bush's policies, are suddenly up and arms now that we have a half-black president. It is pretty apparent what they are all about. I hope they contribute to the destruction of the Republican Party for good.

    February 17, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  14. Shara

    Tea party activists are ... mostly white males from rural areas. What else is new ? And we also have a black President. No wonder these activits are now coming out of the woodwork.

    February 17, 2010 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  15. gl, From Pittsburgh

    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.

    AND THIS WILL BE VERY GOOD FOR THE DEMS!

    February 17, 2010 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  16. Brett

    There is another obvious characteristic of Tea Party activists that this poll found but was for some reason not mentionned in the summary article. Just look at the photo... notice anything? Ah yes! Everyone is white. (Technically 80% white according to the poll results.) I think that is a major issue here that is not getting enough attention. To say that the Tea Party has nothing to do with race is very naive as the racial demographics of the movement according to the poll do not parody the racial demographics of the nation as a whole. This is a movement made up of very privileged people- mostly white christian men of high social-economic class.

    February 17, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  17. Lilarose in Oregon

    I am sure my ex-husband is among the TeaBaggers.

    He has all the personality traits and political leanings to be a member.

    Our nation is in such a mess what diff does it make who tries to "run" it.

    Welcome to the United States of China, owned by foreigners and soon to be run by them.

    February 17, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  18. Preston

    "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."

    Well, then, I say, "Go, Tea Party!"

    February 17, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  19. Shawn

    These goofball nuts are HILARIOUS. They're just a bunch of racist, sore LOSER fanatics.

    February 17, 2010 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  20. A. Goodwin

    Does this poll really surprise anyone? Grass roots my BUTT!! Bought and paid for by your local RICH WHITE GUY. Thanks Tea Baggers for helping to kill Health Care Reform – rich snobs!!

    February 17, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  21. THE LUNCH LADY

    oh really the tea party consists of conservatives/republicans, shocker
    6/10 is not "mostly male" , especially with sampling error factored in. so do you think gay rights activists are mostly liberal/progressives? maybe you should write an articles on that mind blowing poll data.

    February 17, 2010 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  22. Jim

    I find it hard to believe the education numbers in particular. I am a moderate Democrat, and from what I see in the news and the press (not just talking the supposedly "...left-leaning liberal-bias press" here), I would say that the majority of Tea Party members are not just conservative, but right-wing extremeists...

    February 17, 2010 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. chris tx

    20% of the population call themselves Republican
    Tea Party – "more than three in four call themselves conservatives"
    Tea Party – 80% are White per this poll

    So basically they're extremists/finge activists that aren't really fighting for all Americans like they claim.

    Tea Party Goals:
    "take back America"
    support "real America"

    Extremists of any kind scare the crap out of me...

    February 17, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  24. Ray Jackson, Ms

    You can not tell me most of these people went to college. They obviously lied to the people taking the polls. Also, what does upscate in the poll mean? 99% of the people in the pictures look at best lower middle class. White trash would be a better description. My definition of upscale wouldn't apply to them and I'm not a big city snob. I'm from rural Mississippi and I still live in the state.

    February 17, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  25. hampster

    Hope they run candidates in every congressional district in the nation. They should als run in every state for the senate. This way America could finally put the republican party to sleep and it would be doubtful any Tea Partier would wwin. A perfect outcom!!!

    February 17, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
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