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. Ron

    SocialismBAD espoused the typical Republican drivel about welfare recepients and lazy people being given everything on a platter while rich white men have to go out and earn all they have. I guess Republicans are hoping that no one will notice that the REAL social welfare is ALWAYS top down. It was rich white fat cat Bankers and Wall Street scum bags who got the bail outs my friend not the African American or Hispanic single moms out there. Even before this latest round of robbing the American people by the richest among us the Republicans always seem to forget the kind of extortion that their buddies in Corporate American have been pulling on the American people over the years. With outragous tax breaks and government give aways just to keep a few jobs in the local area most of us used to believe it was a trade off that was in the best interests of Americans and American jobs. Of course we have all learned the hard way that even if we do buy our jobs from the MultiNationals they will outsource/offshore them as soon as they can to ensure the top brass can add to their fleet of yachts or private jets.

    So I ask you...who are the real recepients of welfare? The single moms getting a 400 a month welfare check or the CEO's who gave themselves a 100 million dollar bonus with our tax dollars?

    February 17, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Lucullus

    75% of these people went to college? If you listen to them, you'll find that most of them are clueless about the politics of the nation. Many of them believe that the Constitution mandates limited government. They cheered when Tancredo read the Preamble to the Declaration of
    Independence and said it was from the Constitution. These people are morons, or as they spell it morans. Where were they when Bush ruined our reputation and economy? Where were they when the Borrow and Spend Republicans were whining about Tax and Spend Liberals? They want socialist programs but you'd better not touch their medicare or social security.

    February 17, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  3. j

    They forgot to mention that they're all WHITE RACIST. The tea baggers don't seem to attract people of color. They equate freedom and liberty with gun ownership instead of equality and rights. They'd likely benefit from Progressive programs but are too ignorant to figure that out for themselves.

    February 17, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  4. 4 better than 2

    Since Democrats are too far right of center for the liberal standards of the day this the best time to start a real Liberal party. It will draw away from Democrats as many people as Tea party from Republicans and no one will be threatened. And the world will be a happy place.

    February 17, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  5. YBM

    SocialismBad February 17th, 2010 12:19 pm ET

    Well, well, well... Tea Party supporters tend to be conservative, college educated and higher income! Not quite the uneducated racists that the liberals and Lame Stream Media have portraited them. Now isn't that a big surprise....NOT!

    In other words, they are overworked, overtaxed AMERICAN CITIZENS that are sick and tired of carrying the deadwood of this country on their backs while trying to struggle to make a better life for their families. They are NOT government dependents that sit around waiting for the government to feed, cloth and house them. They would probably have to be near death to accept a penney of government aid. They just want the government to STOP taking, taking, taking, taking both money and freedom.
    Hear! Hear! You hit the nail on the head.

    February 17, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  6. Jamal

    Sounds like average normal americans. Sounds like americans who care about there country. They are labled racists, which is quite funny considering every black person in america voted for Obama only because he is black, now doesnt' that sound a little racist? Now all the blacks are saying that anyone who opposes Obama is racist. What a joke, well the old saying goes, "those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". So if people don't like Tiger Woods because of what he has done to his wife and children, does that make them racist?

    February 17, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  7. Zenichi-maro

    @ Socialismbad: One need not be uneducated to be ignorant, and one's college degree–or lack thereof–is no guarantee of neutrality on matters of race. I've plenty of family members with graduate degrees who still propound ignorant and racist ideas.

    The phenomenon of the so-called Tea Party is demonstrably a movement of angry white males who constantly speak of "taking the country back." Back from whom or back to what is somewhat in question, though. Back from the scary black man. Back to the days when torture was given a wink and a nod. Back to the days when women and pesky minorities knew their place. Back...to the future?

    Who knows? With these angry white men, it's all just ranting and slogans and name calling. The wingnut contingent of the GOP has really just formalised itself into a little social club. Welcome to the revolution.


    February 17, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  8. KLK

    Tell us something we don't already know. Tea Party = white, male, right-wing nut-jobs.

    February 17, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  9. Ryan, in denver

    Anyone who takes seriously Glenn Beck the political televangelist, and Palin the insubstantial echo box does not deserve my respect. I find it humorous that Ron Paul has been advocating similar principals for some time now and has been excluded from GOP debates as a wacko. What has changed?.. Black president, voted in by a majority of Americans... uh-oh time to get involved in politics. So transparent.

    February 17, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  10. Tina, NC

    I also meant to add that I would bet that the overwhelming majority of teabaggers are of the Fundamentalist, Evangelical Christians mindset.

    February 17, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  11. Debbie

    Throw in some guns with their anger, and a holier- than-thou attitude and things get even more scary.

    The Tea Party folks forget that the founding fathers were pretty liberal for their time, a time much different from today in many ways. Comparing our country to our country in the 1700's is way too simplistic. I think the Founding Fathers would be very disappointed in the current crop of legislatures, but only for their lack of intelligent dialogue and willingness to work together to get the people's work done. They were very intellectual in their approach to governing and would be disappointed in the current discourse.

    February 17, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  12. chean

    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...

    Hey, you are wrong about the colors part!! Maybe you should open your eyes and look into these tea bagger crowds and while your at it read some of the racists signs some of them hold up to.

    You call yourself Conservative Voice but sound more like a Lying Voice

    February 17, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  13. Independent One

    Who are the tea baggers???? White, mean spirited, racists, rural, nasty people

    February 17, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  14. Linda from Minnesota

    Can someone explain to me exactly what "freedoms" I am losing? I sure haven't lost any of my freedoms. I am taxed less after the tax cut I got after President Obama was inaugerated. If you want to complain about taxes, fine but you also need to recognized the tax cut American workers received last year. As for losing your freedom, I don't get it, what freedoms are being lost? Someone, please tell me.

    February 17, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  15. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    There is no such thing as a republican party. It is made up of birthers, deathers, Birchers, less than bright viewers of Fox, and the wealthiest people who put themselves ahead of the people.

    February 17, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  16. Michael


    Rich White Guys

    Redneck White Guys

    There are your tea party people

    They represent a MINORITY of people and don't speak for all of us CNN!

    February 17, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  17. Gary

    To "Socialism Bad": First off, you don't know what socialism really is. I do. I was a Political Science major at UCLA. Trust me, we're far from a socialist society, but every major, modern, [smart] industrial country has strains of socialism. Second, since when does "conservative, college educated, and higher income" not mean that someone can't still be racist? True, college educated people tend to be less racist (and generally bigoted, intolerant, and ignorant) than non-college educated people, but it depends on where they went to college (see the South or Liberty University). So your conclusion that the "Lame Stream Media" portrays these people as such is false. Third, you assume all Liberals or people who don't support the Tea Party ignoramous movement like to live off of the government. Not True! Plus, there will always be people that are not as smart, as business savvy, as driven, as opportunistic, or as money hungry or even lucky (yes, lucky!) as others (see the bell curve). If everyone was equal or successful, we WOULD be more like a socialist or worse, communist country. Many people are hard working and do the actual work of the companies they work for (but don't get paid enough because of greedy business owners or corporate executives) but simply can't afford the skyrocketing cost of living relative to their stagnate wages (gas, food, HEALTH INSURANCE premiums rising 30+% every 6 months, etc.)

    February 17, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  18. John

    95% of African Americans vote democrat. Is that because they believe that their race is superior to all others or is it because they share similar beliefs based upon their life experiences? I'm guessing the later. But if 95% (or more) of the Tea Party movement are white, it's because they are racists. Not because they fear an overreaching government or otherwise disagree with the direction of the country. What components of the tea party platform suggest promoting white people over all others?

    What struck me about the poll was that 75% are college educated vs %54 for the general population. Up to this point we've all been told that they were mostly uneducated.

    February 17, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  19. The Film Professor

    So they're all white male rural conservatives, eh? Yeh, that's a real broad-minded constituency that should have a lot of appeal to all of the diverse groups in this country.

    What does surprise me is that so many of them attended college, because ignorance and blind partisanship seem to be the connecting themes in their chaotic public utterances.

    February 17, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  20. IndyVoter

    According to the poll data, don't, don't you mean "Activists in the Tea Party Movement tend to be WHITE, rural, upscale and overwhelmingly conservative"? The writer conveniently left out this important piece of information. Also (according to the poll data) the poll participants are majority from the South and 71% white, only 11% black and 11% Hispanics. Don't you think that if you had a respondants pool that was more respresentative of the country you might get a more accurate accounting of what people think about the Tea Party?

    February 17, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  21. Lucullus

    Many of the posters here scream how their freedom is threatened. What threat to your freedom? The only threat comes from the conservatives. Joe McCarthy wasn't a liberal. Dick "have librarians tell us what you're reading" Cheney isn't a liberal. The people who regularly violate the constitution and then claim it's for a higher cause are the conservatives, not liberals. You no nothing rubes scare the hell out of me

    February 17, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  22. Tracy

    Attention Tea Party Candidates: Please run and win in as many districts as you possibly can, especially in swing states. Your victories will make the right wing conspiracy theorist factor in Congress so much easier to identify and ignore. Drill, baby, drill!

    February 17, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  23. Simp

    @conservative voice comments " these people are sick and tired of the status quo in DC" well where in the hell was this band of racist moron's when bush was sticking it to this country? You can say this group of idiots are a mix of sizes, color, religions and gender if you want, but the reality this is a bunch of angry WHITE trailer trash angry because we have an Africian American president in the White House and no matter how you try justify all this hate from these clowns, President Obama is what has the so called tea bagger putting on their sheets.

    February 17, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  24. John

    Keep your heads in the sand Democrats ... everything's fine ... don't mind the plummeting poll numbers, the complete and total inability to get anything accomplished, the outrageous levels of waste of your hard earned tax dollars ...

    Oh wait. You don't have jobs ... I forgot. They're not YOUR tax dollars being given away ...

    February 17, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  25. Wisconsonite - Vote for Consumer Protection Regulation of the Financial Industry

    To: stevegee February 17th, 2010 12:12 pm ET

    "Tea Party activists are people like me – patriots who are fed up with the Feds!"

    Yeah, like you, stevegee. A bunch of whiney, rich, white males who complain all the time about how their country is being "taken away from them"! Whiney rich, white boys who don't seem to realize that the freedoms we enjoy in this country COST MONEY! That money comes IN THE FORM OF TAXES!

    February 17, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
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