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. bob

    Everyone understands that polls make the news. Their answers reflect that they knew this would make the news, rather than reflecting their true beliefs, etc.

    February 17, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  2. asy

    Tea Party slogan should be "Hooray for triple K"

    February 17, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  3. Nick

    These people would have a lot more credibility had they stood up when GW Bush was running the economy into the ground, and stepping on the Constitution. Seems odd they emerged less than a year after a black man won the Presidency.

    February 17, 2010 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  4. mike

    lets get something strait the tea party was started by JUDSON PHILLPS
    A LAWYER and now the republican party is in bed with him were
    is the so called grass roots movement the uneducated are being
    lead in believing that there going to see a change then why do you
    have to pay for that change FOOLS (NEVER TRUST A LAWYER)

    February 17, 2010 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  5. Tom

    The article appears to end in a slanted way. It states that 6 out of 10 are male, instead of stating slightly more than half, and half are from your country, so that means another half are from urban centers, so that is real bad news for Dems. Their stronghold is the urban centers. Ha ha, looking forward to taking them down in November.

    February 17, 2010 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  6. Matt

    You can ask why most Tea Party members are white, or why people of color apparently don't enjoy freedom or keeping their money in their pockets. I could go a step further and ask why all the colored people voted for a man who wants to redistribute wealth. Granted, we'd all be better off creating a legitimate Libertarian party, since the fringe Republicans have jumped on board the Tea Party bandwagon (I'll at least agree with most Democrats on that point). A true Libertarian (I'm talking about at the Federal level) would allow people to keep their money, wouldn't care who married who, and wouldn't have gone into Iraq. Let's face it, both the neoconservative Republicans (religion/war) and liberal Democrats (money) want to tell you what you can and cannot do. At least the Tea Party is a step away from that, but a Libertarian party would be better!

    February 17, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  7. Llivng in America

    It should be called the Weed Party. Anyone who supports Sarah Palin has been smoking something instead of drinking something. Were is the word terrorists. If they were people of color coming together like thise they would be labeled terrorists at the drop of a hat.

    February 17, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  8. chris tx

    20% of the population call themselves Republican

    Per this poll:
    77% conservative
    80% are White per this poll
    87% Republican per this poll
    84% Christian 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" – to when? When you were children and everyhing seemed perfect?
    support "real America" – where's this land? and what do we call the rest of America?

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

    February 17, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  9. Mike in MN

    I can tell you for sure the Tea Party people are people who are smart enough to know when they are being fed a constant line of bull from the White House. This poll shows 75% of Tea Party activists are college educated which debunks the claims from the left that they are a bunch of uneducated idiots.
    They are smart enough to know it is bull when Obama says the stimulus has worked beyond all expectations.
    They are smart enough to know it is bull when Obama says his new budget has deficit cutting measures in it, but in fact it increases spending by another 300 billion and creates a 2010 deficit of 1.56 trillion, up 256 billion for 2009. That is increasing the deficit not reducing it.
    They are smart enough to know it is bull when Obama says the deficits are all Bush's fault when Bush had nothing to do with Obama's two budgets that increase spending by 600 billion, or Obama's now 862 billion stimulus, or the billions Obama has spent on things like the auto bail outs and cash for clunkers.
    They are smart enough to know it is bull when Obama says the average trillion dollar a year deficits projected for the next decade are all Bush's fault.
    They are smart enough to know it is bull when Obama pretends to want to be transparent by having the bipartisan health care summit on C-SPAN when in fact there are ongoing behind closed door negoiations between House and Senate Democrats to merge the two bills, which are not on C-SPAN. Democrats get to make deals out of the public eye and Republicans do not.
    I could go on and on. The amount of bull coming from the White House is boundless.

    February 17, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  10. MJ

    Comments seem to categorize the Tea Party as White, Educated, Male. I take offense at these being "bad traits". Most are just angry at what the Government has been trying to do to all of America, which includes all ages, sex & race. Taking over banks, health, and anything else they can get a hold of. Assuring our children and grandchildren will be paying for this recklessness for decades to come. Making back-room deals and smirking smiles that try to portray "they know what is best". This Government is not currently being run For The People!

    February 17, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  11. Conservatism equals illiterate ignorance

    Tea partiers, just disgruntled Repugnants who are upset because they are no longer in power and who will take votes away from other Repugnants, as I have always said, Sarah Make Up and No Brains is the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic party!

    February 17, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. Mr. Moderate

    The attended college. The poll said nothing about them graduating.

    February 17, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  13. Jon

    If it is fair to say that most of tea party supporters are white, male, high income, conservative or rual, may it be also fair to say that most, if not all, of Obama and DAME's supporters are non-white, male or female, non-income taxpayers or relying on government's handouts, urban, liberals and Harvard-educated with an IQ of 200?

    February 17, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  14. Charles

    This survey of Tea Party activists was very interesting. Given the total margin of error of +/-9 for this 124-respondent sample, one can tentatively conclude that there are 18 statistically significant demographic discrepancies between these activists and the American electorate as a whole. Those 18 discrepancies are as follows:

    More Men
    Less Women
    More Whites
    Less African-American
    Less High School Degree
    More College Graduate
    Less Under $30,000
    More $50k-$75k
    Less Urban
    More Rural
    Less Liberal
    Less Moderate
    More Conservative
    Less Democratic
    More Republican
    Less Democratic House
    More Republican House
    More Protestant

    For what it's worth, here are the demographic discrepancies which did not surprise me, but which reinforced my conclusions with regard to some of the more notable characteristics of this group: More Men, Less African-American, More Rural, More Protestant. These are all indicators, I believe, that this group has built-in walls that run counter to current demographic trends. WIth this demographic picture, it is unlikely that the Tea Party activists will ever be more influential than they are right now. In fact, as the population continues to become more African-American and more urban, it appears almost inevitable that this movement is more of a flash in the pan than a harbinger of things to come.

    And here were two demographic differences between these activists and the general population which DID surprise me: More College Graduate, More $50k-$75k. I had assumed that Tea Party activists would look like a slice of the 2008 anti-Obama coalition, which would mean less educated and less affluent voters. But, in fact, the exact opposite is the case. To me, this indicates that, for the most part, Tea Party activists are both more interested in politics, and have a longer-term history of political activism, than the picture of them normally presented by the news media.

    The above merely scratches the surface of this interesting, and rather insular, group. I'll leave it to others to expand on some of the implications of the above data points. But there is no doubt that this survey is useful and informative.

    February 17, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  15. dan

    teabaggers = anti imagrant not anti imagration rich white people happy with the status quo for themselvs not willing to help out the little guy even when they themselves might have excess....

    February 17, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  16. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Everybody has a price and as soon as the so called leaders of the Tea Party movement name their price, they too will no longer be part of this movement. So be aware to those who contibute, a fool and his money will soon be departed.

    February 17, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  17. Ray in Nashville

    This is really not news. We have had a large group of Independents in this country for years. They are centrists and both major parties have had to come to the center to get their votes. The Tea Party, however, should not be confused with the true Independents. This new group is made up of the very right wing of the Republican party who decided to become "Independent" for several reasons. One: John McCain won their primary and he was viewed as too moderate. Two: The Bush administration passed the TARP initiative. Three: Democrats successfully defended their own big spending by pointing out the enormous amount of spending under the Bush administration. Four: A black man was elected president of the United States.

    We need a true, centrist, third party that will speak for the center of the country.

    February 17, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  18. Brooke

    Why all the hate directed towards Tea Party activists? Seriously, what makes the views of a pro Obama liberal more valid than a conservative?

    It seems that those that criticize have no concept of American History. Our Revoultion was fought and our Freedom gained by ordinary men and women standing up to the tyranny of an oppressive government. I think we need more Tea Partiers than the "Ask not what I can do for my country but what my country can do for me" Obama mentality.

    February 17, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. Tram

    I was a tea-partyier for 8 years when the fascist dictator Bush and his puppeteer Cheney dominated our lives. Where were the other tea-partyiers then? Where were they when Bush and Cheney sold our freedoms to the highest contractor?

    This group of tea-partyiers have NO right to use the name that we patriots revere as a definition of freedom fighters.

    February 17, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  20. cjr

    the tea party folks are racists and un american – just like the republican party – complainers all – no new ideas just like republicans – followers of Beck, Limbaugh and Palin – Now isn't that an interesting crowd. a disaster waiting to happen. can't wait – they will destroy themselves.

    February 17, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. Conservatism equals illiterate ignorance

    Is it surprising the biggest crybabies on the American political scene only make up 11% of Americans, all white rural ultra-conservative males who think Sarah Makeup With No Brains would make a great President?

    February 17, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  22. third party

    This is what I've been saying... the Tea Party is good for Dems, whether you like it or not.

    I happen to like it. Party on Tea Party! Get Sarah and RUN! Do a language test for membership! Ban the gays from being in your party!

    i.e. do whatever you can to alienate most of America. Once we know who you are it is better. And frankly it is better for the GOP to be able to present cogent ideas with some backing rather than the bluster of Beck-ites and Rush-odes.

    "Angry and afraid" is not a basis for policy.

    February 17, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. Ken in Mt

    They are just the John Birchers for the new millenium. Angry scared white folks who are scared to death that they will lose their supposed privaleges. They are now and always have been disenfranchised and that has just hit them again. In short they are mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore

    February 17, 2010 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  24. Ron -- Seattle

    I truly don't understand how any thinking person can identify themselves as conservative (fiscally) much less a teapartier. Reagan moved the country to the rigth. Clinton stayed with Greenspan and his buddies. Bush pushed it even further rigth. Economic collapse. No real GDP per capita growth over other 1st world countries in the last 20-30 years. Income gap widening and no real income growth for the lower 2/3rds of Americans.

    Where's the disconnect?

    February 17, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  25. RM

    Foolish liberals are in denial. There are many highly educated and successful Americans, even some minorities like me (shocker! – liberal brains cannot comprehend) who are disgusted with the level of socialism advocated by the left. The tea party is a clear and compelling response to the unwarranted erosion of American capitalism, which has brought prosperity to generations of Americans since the time of the British colonization. In fact, those of us who have studied history know that the early colonists came to America for economic freedom above and beyond religious freedom. I am absolutely disgusted at the level of taxation I already endure – I receive very little in return from the government. In contrast, I have lived in several Asian nations and received far more and better in government services for a much lower level of taxation, The tea party is a revolt against inefficient government, against illegal immigrants draining our resources (my wife and I are legal immigrants – and outraged we had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to immigrate, wasting countless of hours of time in paperwork, while foolish liberal policies allow anyone walking across the border from Mexico to stay without consequences). I am a busy working professional, spending over 80 hours per week in the office – I don't have time to attend tea party rallies. But will I support them, and any candidate who advocates limited government, rational immigration policy, and understands that America's greatness comes from freedom from excessive government intervention, not the socialist garbage being perpetrated on us by Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Geithner, Summers – all people who have never had a real job in the private sector and have no clue about job creation. If you want to discuss education, I have 3 times as many degrees from Harvard as Obama does, and I find his policies to be outrageous, as do many of my classmates and peers.

    February 17, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
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