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. FT

    priviledged white men tend to be able to afford college in the first place…somewhat of a misleading statistic.

    February 17, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  2. CRA

    I live in a rural area which is predominately white so here is the tea partier's distilled take on Obama as published in our paper's comment section: Obama is a socialist Muslim terrorist controlled by Jews and in the pocket of wall street bankers who will give all the jobs to blacks once he takes all the guns away from us (whites). If 75% of these yahoos went to college I fear for our education system.

    February 17, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. Krista

    Hmm, it'll split the Republican base if they run their own candidates?

    February 17, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  4. js

    The party of D students?

    February 17, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  5. Fair is Fair

    "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."

    Au contraire. The Tea Party is for a LIMITED federal government, just as the founders wanted.

    With respect to roads, schools, police, fire, etc... isn't that exactly why we pay state taxes, whether they be state income tax, property tax, sales tax, gasoline tax and the like? But progressives HATE that, because everyone has to pay their fair share with those taxes.

    And isn't it a fact that the vast majority, if not all, STATE constitutions require balanced budgets?

    The founders wanted strong state government with limited central government. The Tea party wants the exact same thing.

    February 17, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  6. Derek

    Should the results of the poll surprise anyone? Tea partiers are white, male, college educated, and wealthy. It's no coincidence that this is also the largest tax base. They look at all the spending and know it will have to be paid for somehow; probably with tax hikes. And yes, I know Bush spent a huge amount of money too. That is happens when you finance 2 wars and Katrina. What is mind boggling is that Obama has taken Bush's spending and quadrupled it! And I'm not even counting proposed health care or cap and trade.

    February 17, 2010 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  7. Steve (the real one)

    Some of you are complaining about the ethnic make up of the Tea-partiers, calling them racists! Yet you fail to mention how Obama won 97% of the black vote! Yet you don't consider that racism, right?

    February 17, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. Sean

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

    It's nice to see how people like these think that they're the only patriots, and love America. What they don't know is that big businesses (commonly associated with conservatives), no longer bring in enough to feed America, they have either outsourced everything, or had gone out of this country.... it's those liberals.... like googles, Microsoft, who are leading the charge in revolutionalizing America corporations, and provide high paying jobs, for Americans and any new LEGAL immigrants. Sure, they outsourced programming to India... but they do it legally.

    Americans are creative, and creativity can only be found in people who are extremely open, and has an open mind. Drilling oil, for example, is no longer a creative industry. Conservatism in the long run is pulling down America's creativity.

    February 17, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  9. Serioulsy. Left

    Leave it up to the liberals to make a race issue out of this. You guys make race issues out of everything when its convenient. Why don't you somehow make a race issue over the stimulus package or the MA senate race, etc.etc. You can't have that many ace of spades up your sleeves.

    February 17, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  10. Keith

    They're all knuckleheads.

    #1: Liberals are extreme democrats
    #2: Conservatives are extreme republicans
    #3: Congress is run by extremists on both sides who have no interest whatsoever in bipartisanship
    #4: This started with Reagan, continued all the way up to now where it's coming out in full force
    #5: The wheels of America have come to a screeching halt because the Democrats are spineless and the Republicans are swimming in pools of hate
    #6: There's probably no way out of this, because the simple fix is to elect Democrats and Republicans who actually adhere to most of the basic fundamentals of their parties platform instead of neo-conservative whacks who hate everyone and everything that's not like them and liberal pansies who have as much guts as an amoeba to stand up to the attacks from the other side, and the American electorate is so polarized and blinded by the message their side is putting out that they can't see how dire the situation actually is.

    I am a Democrat and I'm offended and disgusting with every politician on both sides of the fence save for maybe a handful of members of congress and a senator or two.

    February 17, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  11. Andre' Smith

    The Party Originated before Obama became president. They protested at various state capitols around the country. Although I disagree on some of the particulars I agree as in 1776 our government is no different than the King during that era. Our solution then was revolution. The Tea Party is the beginning of this Revolution however imperfect it may be. I voted for Obama and still support his efforts but it is impossible to accomplish anything in a two party system with politicians funded by lobbyist to for their decisions. When the Government begins to misrpresent its people it is the duty of every citizen to abolish that government... Thomas Jefferson 1776 Declaration of independence.

    February 17, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  12. jopsjennings

    I too am tired of the GOP after all these years. I think the tea bags have the right idea as far as splitting from the GOP is concerned because "the GOP just doesn't get it!" The only problem is that the tea bags didn't pick a flashy enough name. If I split off I will name my party FPOTUHAM, which, coincidentally enough, is not only sexy in and of itself, but is also an acronym for Fat People Opposed To Universal Healthcare And Mexicans.

    February 17, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  13. Shel in GA

    Conservative Voice – "They are people who are sick and tired of the status quo in DC. They are all sizes, colors, religions and genders..." You may be right but the groups that showed up for the rallies were far from diverse.

    February 17, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |

    We had better purge our country of the tea party gestapos. They look like a bunch of white Nazies to me. We know what the Nazies did the last time they were here. Dont be fooled by their interest in politics it is a ruse.

    February 17, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  15. Cyrus

    Tea Party "conservatives" are Republicans who don't want to pay taxes, but want govt. to pay for their wars, roads, schools, national defense, clean air and water, social security, Medicare, and other things. They don't mind when govt. doles out billions to conservative Christian churches to spread propaganda and bigotry, but they do mind when our govt. gives aid to poor nations who seek our assistance. They advocate for "going back" to American values, but they don't know what they are. If we are to go back to our "American Values" of olden days, then they would be happy to open up "Whites Only" restaurants and public transportation and lynch Mexicans, Blacks, Asians, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Gays/Lesbians after Sunday mass.

    They are all about "conserving" the status quo. When they say that they are "sick and tired" of the status quo in Washington, they actually mean that they are afraid of the liberal outcome of the last election that might actually change the Republican and conservative status quo.

    February 17, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  16. Christie

    So, basically, they're the Brooks Brothers Rioters all over again. Paid GOP operatives. Very Grass rooty indeed.

    February 17, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  17. the word PATROIT IS A JOKE

    HEY STEVEGEE..........

    WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN........................YOUR TIMING IS ALL WRONG ..... coming from your group SHOULD WE REALLY TAKE YOUR CONCERNS SERIOUSLY....I think NOT.................did you just wake up after 8 years ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    February 17, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  18. jjj

    If the Tea Partiers had been around during the Bush term touting they're desire fiscal responsibility, then I'd maybe give them some credit.......but coming out now they just look like a bunch of racists hiding behind that claim

    February 17, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  19. woodsy girl

    The one word that popped out at me was (Upscale) If this the example of (upscale), I'll stay away thank you very much......They can;t even spell!!!!

    February 17, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  20. J. Richter

    Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, ANGRIER, GIVEN TO CONSPIRACIES, LOWER EDUCATED, AND WHITE.

    Why is CNN skirting around the obvious.

    February 17, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  21. Dar

    Pam from Iowa says:

    Excuse me Tea partiers – those are government programs! So repay all your social security payments and reimburse Medicare!
    If parents of Tea Partiers are getting social security or using Medicare- shame on you for allowing that and not paying for your parents medical needs and financial needs!

    ????? These are the people whom have already paid thier way through life and paid for many others way through their lives that couldn't or wouldn't work for a living.
    Beleive me, if I could have kept my social security through out my life and invested it as I see fit I would be a very happy person right now. I would be more than willing to pay for my medical needs on my own.

    But that doesnt work because of lazy dumb thinking people like you Pammy, We the working people are still taking care of the under privileged and are happy to do so. But what most Tea partyers are ticked off about is, are you ready babe: People like you that want to take what we have worked so hard for and saved for and give to someone else that isnt or wont work like we do. We dont mind giving a hand up to anyone but we are tired of giving hand outs to people who wont help them selfs.

    You sound like a young person who wants their fair share of the pie and wants it handed to them on a silver platter. To bad Pammy, it isn't going to happen babe, not as long as Americans have their freedom.
    Wake up sister, Odumbo is not the answer, Odumbo is the cancer.

    2010/2012 REAL Change is coming (Yes tammy it is)

    February 17, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  22. Brian

    Here's what kills me about the Tea Partiers: the nerve to compare themselves to our Founding Fathers. A quick history lesson: the Boston Tea Party and subsequent revolution were based on taxation without representation, meaning American colonists had no voice in England. However, unless you are a convicted felon, every adult American has the right to vote. Whether or not one expressed that vote, is the responsibility of each citizen. If you voted, and your person didn't win, you are still represented. You can't be mad that your guy(girl) didn't win, which is what these "tea" partiers are.


    February 17, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. Tom in FL

    The figure on college graduation rate is a bit misleading, since most of these are probably Bible colleges. Otherwise, it's pretty much what you'd expect for a movement of the ignorant. It's a fair bet that this is the same 25% which thinks that Jesus is going to turn up and murder everybody who doesn't go to their church.
    The news media give these people way too much attention. The ignorant have always been around; usually we just ignore them.

    February 17, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  24. Mike Syracuse, NY

    Yep, just keep underestimating the dissatisfaction. See the surprise in Nov.

    February 17, 2010 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  25. Christie

    We use to call these people the KKK, NeoNazis or the David Dukes of the USA. Now the are calling themselves conservatives; as for me they are still racists or if they prefer – bigots. A duck is a duck regardless of the color.

    February 17, 2010 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
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