Washington (CNN) - In a speech to college students on Tuesday in Chicago, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Tea Party activists make up "a third or more" of the voting age population.
"I have advised our state chairs: Don't turn your nose up, or turn away those who are active in the Tea Party movement. Embrace them. Welcome them. Talk to them," Steele told a group of DePaul University students, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
"Those activists have now become a very large part of our voting bloc," he continued. "They represent a third or more of the voting age population, so they're going to have a profound impact on elections and in some cases in the primaries this November and this spring. Both parties had better pay attention."
Recent polling, however, suggests that the Tea Party movement is not as large as Steele claims.
According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll released last week, roughly 10 percent of Americans say they have actively supported the Tea Party movement, either by donating money, attending a rally or taking some other active step. Another 17 percent of Americans say they generally support the movement, but have not directly participated in it.
The RNC chairman also kept to his official posture of not endorsing a candidate in the Florida Republican Senate primary, even as other Republicans begin to coalesce around former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Some Republicans are abandoning Rubio's rival, Gov. Charlie Crist, amid rumors that he may run as an independent.
"In Florida, Marco Rubio has captured the imagination of the Tea Party there to the detriment of the governor, Gov. Crist, but from my perspective, Marco Rubio if he wins is a good candidate to run for the U.S. Senate," Steele told the students, according to the paper. "Should Gov. Crist win, he's a good candidate to run for the U.S. Senate. It's a win-win."