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. aproudmemberoftheunpatrioticmob

    That's right all you bigotted, elitist liberals, make us out as racist, southern and uneducated. Keep defaming and degrading us. You look more stupid and gain more members for us. Thank you dope smokers.

    February 17, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  2. Fair is Fair

    Michael in Houston February 17th, 2010 12:37 pm ET

    and how many minorities are in the tea party?

    As many as want to join in. No one is shutting the door on minorities.

    February 17, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  3. CR

    The media are focusing too much attention on these loud-mouth Republicans. They are the same group of hot-heads who were angry the day after the election. They lost. Why cast the spotlight on a group of sore losers.

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. The Voice

    And they forgot to mention racist. It all makes sense, their was no movement when Bush passed the first bailout. This is all about a black man being the President.

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  5. Bob

    The fact that many members of a group "attended college" is a rather meaningless data point. Far more interesting would be whether any of them actually earned a degree, and, in the cases of those who did, in what subjects. There is nothing especially wonderful about being a college dropout. We find, in our business, that even many college graduates with engineering and science degrees cannot handle even very simple problems. From what I have observed, the republican party has been dumpster diving for years to attract some of the most stupid, poorly educated trash imaginable to their simple-minded, hypocritial, and anti-intellectual ideology. There is a strong need in this country for intelligent conservatism – but when the republican party climbed into bed with kook religion and Tea Party trash – it became trash.

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. Richard

    It's too bad that the TEA party was highjacked by the GOP. It was bound to happen, though. Politics hates a vacuum. A high profile high energy third party is what this country needs.

    As it is the Dems and Reps are nothing more than a two headed snake. There's always article 5 of the constitution. Rewrite the whole thing, man.

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  7. sally

    Funny how all those Patriots suddenly became fed up and outraged when Obama took office. Never mind the previous decade the Republicans spent bankrupting this country on every single level. And if they are so smart, and well educated, why on earth would the likes of Sara Palin appeal to them?

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  8. Mike

    Where was this group when George Bush was doubling the national debt?

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  9. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA


    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  10. Mike

    Tea party third party candidates will be rare except for maybe Nevada which would be stupid unless neither party has a conservative on the ticket. The tea party protesters will support conservative people regardless of their party affiliation. The key, is the politican must be a strong conservative and strong supporter of our constitution.

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  11. Ed

    Teaparty = 3rd political party? You're such a kidder. A 3rd political party cannot be a right wing extremist party if it wants enough support from independents to sustain itself. It will remain a fringe right wing faction with 10-15% support + the evangelicals. Sara Palin can be their candidate.

    February 17, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  12. Cathy in AZ

    All white as well AND I would bet from the south! I also do not believe upscale either! They are misinformed and misguided.
    To stevegee – It may be time to clean out Congress but you need to include conservatives as well. Some of the biggest abusers of the system are conservative GOP representatives. Don't kid youself!

    February 17, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  13. dn

    Just because the poll indicates most Teabag participants are white, does not mean they are racist. If Obama was white, but pulling the same stunts, the Teabag Party would still have been born. It is bad policy and patriotism that led to its formation. Educated, middle-class white people are generally NOT racist.

    And one of the reasons Teabag participants are white, is because blacks continue to back Obama – regardless of his bad policies – just because he is black. They wouldn't belong to any group opposing Obama. Now who are the real the racists here?

    At least the poll dispenses with the idea that Teabaggers are just a bunch of beer-drinking, un-educated, toothless rednecks, like the liberal media has tried to portray them. The public image of the Teabag participants has been distorted by a liberal media, that tries very hard to quiet and demean any dissent of Obama and Congress' socialistic agenda.

    February 17, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. kcdave

    Maybe not. It could be that a Tea Party candidate would siphoned from both parties. Nothing democrat or republican about citizens wanting fiscal responsibility in Washington.

    "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"

    February 17, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  15. Chad

    Yes, stevegee, our freedom and liberty is at stake.

    In my mind, right now the biggest threats to those shining ideals are the republicans now in congress, and the republicans you may put in congress.

    God knows the dems have issues, but at least they believe in science.

    I wish the republicans in the senate weren't making it so cheap for big business lobbyists to kill reform. I mean, if 41 people are guaranteed to vote no on everything, then it only costs 10 senators to kill something, and nothing if it's filibustered (as so much is these days). It used to cost 30+ senators to kill something. With such a huge discount given to businesses trying to buy congress, you'd think prices would have gone down.

    But hey, you keep on supporting the freedom of businesses, foreign and domestic, to rape and pillage you. I will weep for the destruction you have wrought.

    February 17, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  16. Wisconsonite - Vote for Consumer Protection Regulation of the Financial Industry

    One more thing the poll doesn't say is that these Baggers just discovered politics . . . . the day our first African American President took office!

    February 17, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  17. Ron L

    Am I the only person that's figured out the answer? You move to a 4 party system. The Tea Party/Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, and Green Party.

    February 17, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  18. Anthony

    Well I'm half black half mexican
    born in California,
    Served in the Military
    and Ive earned a degree from a 4 Year University...
    I work hard, pay taxes, and make more than 100k.

    I can honestly say i dont have time to ditch work to go to a rally to protest everything and anything about our current President, when I shouldve done it in the last 8, but was too busy busting my butt to create some semblance of a future for myself, while Bush was burning our money in a family fued war over Oil with the middle east.

    So in a sense.. Tea Party Activists are the OPPOSITE of ME

    February 17, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. Linda

    Hard to believe that the majority of Teabaggers are college educated. If they were, they wouldn't fall so easily for the rhetoric of fear. It seems much more likely that the main platform of the Tea Party is that the country and the presidency should be reserved for white, land-owning males. This movement sickens me and gives a moment of pause to any thinking American!

    February 17, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. Jim

    " 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!"

    Nearly 75% of tea partiers claim college degrees, not 75% of those with college degrees are teapartiers. That number is more like 1 in 7.

    By the numbers they gave:
    57% of Americans are college graduates
    11% of Americans are active tea-partiers
    75% of tea-partiers are college graduates

    8.25% of Americans are college graduates AND are tea-partiers (11% * 75%)
    14.5% of college graduates are tea-parteries (8.25% / 57%)

    That's a little better than 1 in 7 college graduates in the tea parties. I am not impressed.

    February 17, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  21. Steve (the real one)

    Tea Partiers are those who like to enjoy all that government does for them (like roads, schools, etc) but think that they should not have to pay for any of it.
    What? I guess then you never heard of TAXES? Nobody is complaining about FAIR taxes! I have a question for you. Which party does the non tax paying, government check grabbing folks flock to? here's is a hint. IT AIN'T THE GOP!!!

    February 17, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. Marilyn

    I don't know much about the Tea Party people, and I really don't care about them and their demographics.

    I just know I will NOT vote for Obama in 2012, even though I have been a Democrat all my life. And most likely in 2010, for the first time in my life, I will vote a straight Republican ticket.

    February 17, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  23. Jim

    I'm not a tea bagger or teetotaler. I'm not a bible thumper or a hypocrit. I'm not rich and I'm not poor. I think sarah palin is a nut and so is nancy pelosi. I am apparently guilty of being white and believing that a person can be semi-self sufficient. Finally, I believe you can't spend your way out of bankruptcy – and the Gvt can't either.

    February 17, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  24. wow

    I'd like to see these tea party folks to JUST GIVE BACK ALL OF THEIR GOVERNMENT CHECKS we know their receiving........lets start another STIMULUS PACKAGE from the tea party folks.....give up your medicare, social security, disability and unemployment checks, NO more crying about foreclosures, or jobs..................pull yourselves up by your bootstraps and get you hands out of the GOVERNMENTS POCKETS...if you people can do any of the above I'll walk to WASHINGTON WITH YA.......freakin losers.

    February 17, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  25. JJ

    "Rural", as they are described, is synonymous with unsophisticated which is very believable. It also appears that these demographics could be shared with the Klan. It's another fringe element pining for the life of the 1950's.

    February 17, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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