February 17th, 2010
01:12 PM ET
10 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. alex lyrics

    They Are Republican Radical Racist.

    February 17, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  2. JA/TN

    closed minded, racist, that saw no wrong in the previous admin, and screams we want our country back, which is code for no Black man should be president of the United States of America

    February 17, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  3. Steph

    Keep on goin' tea party! Democrats will win again, just like in upstate New York.

    February 17, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  4. charlotte

    Yeah, Sarah Palin "attended college" too. What they don't say is if any of the Teabaggies actually graduated from college. I doubt it. They're pretty dumb.

    February 17, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  5. Jefe

    The Neoconservatives who are only "conservative" in terms of wanting a big federal government to restrict certain chosen behaviors (abortion, gay marriage) are coopting the movement as best they can.

    People like the ultra-politically correct Sarah Palin are weaseling into a movement meant to be about true conservatism (fiscal conservatism, constitutional use of the military, government non-interference in private lives – which includes everything from gay marriage to abortion to gun rights and private land-use rights). Neocons might as well call themselves "Ultra Leftists who hate gays and abortion.".

    February 17, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  6. Orange Curtain, CA

    Hate the government, poorly educated, racist, bigots, and are afraid of change.

    February 17, 2010 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  7. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Easy answer...They are the Klan...

    February 17, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  8. D.

    Tea Party are activist group, just like any activist group (these are not reserved for the extreme left only, and the right can have his own). To be successful as a movement, they should join forces with whoever is closer to their views, be flexible on many broad issues and stress the main issues their supporters are united about. They should be first and for most, SMART:
    If they go their way by themselves a 10-12% of the US population cannot achieve much, as a block within other groups who are natural allies they have a great chance to be effective.
    Being an anarchist is good for nostalgic feelings in the future, but being effective in real life is something else. Obviously the more leftist elements want the tea party to cause fragmentation of the right side of the political map.

    February 17, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  9. S Callahan

    My friends and I were just talking about this the other day. I strongly believe the media and political pundits have the Tea Party misread. The assumptions are based on 'what they see'. But what they are missing is , once again, what is going on at America's kitchen tabels. I think both parties are in for a surprise.

    February 17, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  10. get real

    Don't the tea partiers talk about the "overwhelming majority of Americans" that support their cause. I don't know what kind of new math they studied in elementary school, but 11% is far from an overwhelming majority.

    February 17, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  11. Scott, Tucson

    As opposed to Blacks whom are democratic liberals, on Welfare, in gangs, too lazy to get a job and only voted for obama believing that he would take care of all their bills at the expense of the rest of us hard working taxpaying Americans.

    February 17, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  12. not_a_dem_anymore

    "Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans"

    -- weird, tdoesnt this go against the conventional wisdom that Tea Party members are uneducated rednecks?! I guess I fit right in – I am white collar worker w/ advanced degree in psychology. I am the opposite of what the demis and media want you to think we are...

    February 17, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  13. GI Joe

    College Kids – no taxes.

    Older folks – don't mess with my medicare.

    Definitely middle-America there folks.

    February 17, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. Terry from West Texas

    The Tea Party suckers are being played like harmonicas by guys in thousand dollar suits. The "Tea Party" is being run for profit by a for-profit corporation whose management is paying themselves very well. Republican operatives are all over this "movement" which is about as spontaneous as a pro-Ahmadinejad rally in Tehran.

    The Teabaggers say they want to lower taxes and reduce the size of government. It seems odd to me that not a one of them can think of a single substantial cut to make in the budget. Oh sure, they talk about welfare queens, scientific studies they do not understand, and government employees wasting paper clips, but the federal government has a $1.5 trillion deficit this year. We could eliminate Social Security. That would do it. Or Medicare. Or the Defense Department.

    The Tea Party is a bunch of lackwit blowhards who want plenty of government services – for themselves – but nothing for you and me. They will end up voting for a Republican who will cut taxes on the very wealthy and increase spending, running up enormous deficits, just like Reagan, Bush1, and Bush2.

    February 17, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  15. S.C.C.

    The question is how many minority groups are in the Tea Party
    i.e. Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans.
    I ask this question because of the party's racial overtones heard
    at their convention.

    February 17, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  16. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    "Male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative". So in other words, "Hicks".

    February 17, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  17. Joseph

    11% of Americans support the Tea Party. Hardly what one would call a revolution, is it? 11% is more like fringe or out-of-the-mainstream percentage. Once again media hype has generated a non-issue.

    February 17, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  18. An 8 year old ELEPHANT dung heap, does not transform into compost in just 1 year!

    11% actively support the tea baggers.

    Wow, that is more like a mole hill than a ground swell of "grass root" support.

    On the plus side on 11% of the public is racist and insane!

    February 17, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  19. Ryan

    Who cares? They all have little to no education in basic economics or politics or even History for that matter.... next story CNN.

    February 17, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  20. I voted for Obama and proud of it in Oregon

    you forgot to add the word racist biggoted pigs LOL
    now you know the rest of the story , I hope they get a third party going . then america can select a good democrat to do a job for the people by the people .. and the racist biggots can flame out like they have always done in the past . other wise we would be using words like hail hitler and power to the whities only and women would be back in the dark ages . with out any rights .. barefoot and pregnant. and slapped atleast 10 times a day for saying anything to make there main man look stupid LOL ya just gotta love em like Palin .. she is self destructive . and will take the idiots down with her .

    February 17, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    I know who they are: birthers, bigots and blowhards. They are people who wave the flag yet hate Americans who aren't just like them. They have little or no knowledge of how government works and they seem to want to go back to the day when lynchings and beatings took place daily. They bring their banners with swastikas and communist symbols and yell for anarchy. They are a disgrace to this country!

    February 17, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  22. harvey

    think about it..... that '6 of 10' are the very people that FEED this nation... all of you, need to think about that... the people that work the farms, grow the food, raise the beef,,,, WE dont like where this country is headed.

    February 17, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  23. katiec

    It is truly hard to believe that three quarters of the tea party movement have attended college. The fact that they cannot see, or if they do, care that they have been manipulated, supported and to a degree controlled by the right wing radicals proves they are truly a biased, misinformed group.
    And, where were they these last eight years, when the republicans brought our country to it's knees? And, to rally around an incompetent, rebel rousing fraud like Palin takes away any credibility.
    They most certainly do not deserve the constant headlines that CNN gives them, but neither does Cheney etc. We all have to realize CNN.s bias and speak out against it as best as we can. It appears to not accomplish anything as they continue to hide behind their news you can trust to support the republicans and anyone connected to them.

    February 17, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  24. pc

    in your description you left out WEAR WHITE HOODS AND HATE BLACKS.

    February 17, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  25. Robert Jay

    Whi are these people and hust what are "conservatives"? These people are right wing, self centered ogotistical religious fanatics who care more about themselves and those who expound to be like them than they do about the country which gives them their fundemental rights and opportunuty. These are obsructionist who just simply obstruct anything that they think they know about. Which by the way is never fact based and accurate.
    Chances are these people (and I know several of them unfortunately) are just plain big mouth losers who don't have anything and think no one esle should have anything either. The Republican elite likes them because the Republican elite doesn't want anyone to have anything either and these moron TPs just eat it up.
    TP's and republicans alike – Get a life – better yet get Palin and BoneHead Boehner and just "Get OUT"!

    February 17, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
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