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. Judi

    The demographics tell it all – nice, white, middle to upper class, very religious and southern. Probably well-meaning, but have no grasp of real world economics. Self-made, but have never or rarely faced a personal crisis – no Viet Nam vets in this group – these were the ones who joined the Guard instead or managed to be active when we were not at war.

    Radio folks here in the south are already talking about creating 2 nations – one of the red states and one of the blue ones. That'll give Sarah a new talking point!

    Tea Party-ers are not dangerous, but their movement is very capable of tipping others (the militia folks) over the edge.

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  2. Libertarian

    Wait until these "upscale Americans" wake up and realize they've been taken by a scam artist better than Bernie Madoff. Does the Parties FOR PROFIT status not say it all? They are setting up dozens of conventions per year JUST TO MAKE MONEY!

    February 17, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. Russ

    I read the polling and saw that 2% of blacks were tea partiers and 10% were hispanic.

    This kind of coincides with gallup's poll toward whites, hispanics, african-Americans, and asians.

    EG: 83% of blacks lean democratic and 8% lean republican

    There are always 2 sides of a coin. I dont think anyone should be self-righteous.

    February 17, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  4. JLM

    Tea baggers are people who did nothing when Bush was spending like crazy.

    February 17, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  5. Barb

    I am an urban female Tea Party attendee. When I have attended meetings, I have seen all types of people there. I think the movement is larger than anyone imagines. Just wait until November...

    February 17, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  6. Tom in Va

    There is nothing patriotic about the Tea Partiers. What they are is instead "nationalistic". There is a huge difference. A Nationalist fears andrejects any and all critical comments about their nation. It is an unhealthy self-perception that leads to hate and fear. This is dangerous.

    Remember the TeaPart rally in DC? Remember their signs that said, "This time we come unarmed!"?

    February 17, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  7. jdm

    You forgot to add that their goal is to restore the government to the role they think the "Founders" intended (although listening to these people its obvious they have never really read any of the works of the "Founders"); moverover, they envision themselves in the role of the genteel, aristocratic farmer or wealthy merchant in this new reich and the rest of us get to be the slaves, the indentured servants, the slaughtered Indians, and the poor with no voice and no hope.

    February 17, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  8. Bryan P

    Shana, I think your comment is on point, and really gets to the root of that movement. You've summed it up very simply.

    February 17, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. guestt55

    that 11% of Americans actively have supported the TeaParty is just the beginning. Before the decade is out I predict a TeaParty takeover of the Republican Party, and a Tea Party president. It's a very frightening future.

    February 17, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  10. Frozone

    These fools are either dupes or willing schills for insurance companies and big oil. The only freedom they're fighting for is the freedom for rich guys to take your paycheck.

    February 17, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |

    Many people on this board are going to be shocked come November. Tea party is nothing more than a grass roots movement who will be supporting anyone not currently in Congress. Scott Brown was merely the first 'tea bag' supported candidate. There will be many more that follow.

    February 17, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  12. Phillip Bunn

    Oh good! This is exactly what we need. Another "all white" group of ultra conservation morons. My guess is this will bring about a new era of "palm readers."

    February 17, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  13. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    So they say the attended college, any diplomas verified? Lying is a way of life with these morons.

    February 17, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  14. Bryan P

    Sorry, I meant to direct that comment to Shara.

    February 17, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  15. MsWright

    TeaBaggers are non-patriots who obviously can't handle the fact that

    they have a black President!!

    February 17, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  16. Jason

    Morons and zealots.....people who believe their way or no way...

    February 17, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  17. Jim

    "Conservative Voice February 17th, 2010 12:23 pm ET

    They are people who are sick and tired of the status quo in DC. They are all sizes, colors, religions and genders..."

    Who like to claim they are old, rich white men on the phone?

    February 17, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  18. Jackalope

    The poll once again demonstrates that the "Tea Party" is just the Timothy McVeigh wing of the Republican Party.

    February 17, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  19. Pete

    There already is a 3rd-party – the NO INCUMBENTS party.
    To be a member ALL you have to do is vote AGAINST every incumbent, every election for the next 6 years.
    After the first election, elected officials will begin to realize that they work for US, not political partys or special interests.
    It is time for voters to STOP being Democrats, Republicans, Tea-Partyiers, conservatives, liberals, progressives, etc, and START being Americans!
    We CAN take our country back, and it's EASY – just vote against ALL incumbents.
    OR, just keep believing all the lies and bs ALL the pols put out every day to get your vote, and continue to live with the same lousy results.
    Put up...or shut up – VOTE OUT ALL INCUMBENTS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 17, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  20. sara

    Or....the Tea Partiers are the KKK without the HOODS, who happened to have used "quotos to gain college degrees" , not doubt Lawyers, who thought they would better manipulate of our criminal justice system to fit their "insanity" . If at all, they are not lying about their "degrees".....because real education leaves No room for ignorance. The head of the Birther's Movement, obtained her "law" degree from a correspondence school, but is registered in California as a "dentist"..........Look it up. CNN stop with this b.s...................these people are the 'new" KKK, and I'm sick of those who are Not calling it WHAT IT IS! What educated person thinks as they do.........LOOK AT THEIR SIGNS, and did you hear what was SAID at their "convention, oops, their "gathering" with their "head wizard".....Sarah Palin.

    February 17, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  21. Rosa Birmingham, AL

    I am surprised that they are college educated? Maybe they they were including graduates from community college? Maybe they went to small satellite or correspondence classes for state Universities? Obviously they did not go to the same schools I did. If they really are college educated, their outrageous rhetoric doesn't speak very highly to our education system.

    February 17, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  22. Robert Johnson

    Interesting. Turns out that Tea Party supporters are not the illiterate bumpkins their opponents claim they are.

    February 17, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. Janice

    I am African-American. I do agree with a lot of the Tea Party ideology. I am tired of the status quo – I blame him, you blame mine, etc. Enough with the polarity and nastiness. I want our representatives to do what they were elected for – representing their constituents. I vote for someone who has similar ideals, hopefully good character (hard to find these days) and depend on that person to do what they believe is best for our country, given the information they have. If they have character and my ideology, that's all I can ask. But DC is so corrupt, with the "I'll scratch your back" mentality that our system has been bastardized and doesn't begin to resemble what it should be. This is what we get when the government becomes too powerful. There are idiots on all sides of the aisle. Can we just get back to the basics of honor and integrity!! PLEASE???

    February 17, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  24. max

    teabaggers are ... well ... teabaggers

    February 17, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  25. Kelly

    The Tea Bag movement in its current form resembles nothing of the group of people who started it–i.e. Ron Paul libertarians. Most people want a lessor incroachment of the government into their personal lives...most people want the government to be fiscally responsible..and most people want us to take our foreign policy serious and stop trying to fix every rougue country. Individual liberty, fiscal conservativeness, and smarter and controlled foreign policy is tantamount in the libertarian movement. These super conservative GOP'ers have certainly hi-jacked this cause...only wanting individual liberty if it is their own while denying those rights to gays, spewing fiscal conservative speech while warning the government not to touch their Medicare, and screaming at everyone that our governement has strayed wildly fromt the constitution while the other side of their mouth insists we violate it (prosecuting terrorists in this country via military tribunals and NOT through our federal civilian court system). These folks are they exact definition of hypocritical idealogs...unable to see the forest through the trees.

    February 17, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
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