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. Mike

    You all miss the point, just like your "beloved” President. We are against his "crazy" spending policies, not the color of his skin. If your family was in debt over your head, would you really begin a spending spree to get out of it? No... You would make cuts to your spending habits and sacrifice the "luxury items." Well at least that is what a "conservative" would do.

    You are all way off base and it's sad. We as a Nation cannot continue to spend away our children's futures.

    February 17, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  2. Dave Ocame

    Stevegee, your comments are beyond silly. It the conservatives that got us in this mess! Why is it you people ignore that little factoid? Is it because you are actually embarrassed? You should be. Yes, clean out congress, but if you get rid of the bureaucrats, who's left?

    I can't help wondering exactly what kind of T this Tea Party's been using?

    February 17, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |

    GO T PARTY GO – Keep fighting the good fight; back Sarah Palin and don't get taken over by the Republicans.

    February 17, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. Brad

    I am so sick of hearing how the tea party is nothing but a bunch of racist white men. The tea party is made up of concerned citizens that deplore the policies of this administration and the last one as well. We are sick of the spend without consequence mentality that we have. Social Security is broke, Medicare is broke, the Post Office is broke. Why in God's name would you want to now try universal health care? Because the government managed these other programs so well? How about "cap and trade"? Obama said "under his plan, energy costs would necessarily sky-rocket". Can you say jobs killer? Cap and trade, by the way is based on skewed information (lies) about global warming! We're sick of lies, corruption, and politics of both parties. As for your rediculous claims that we are racist, I would vote in a minute for J. C. Watts for president. I could care less what your skin color is (as long as you are not a socialist progressive).

    February 17, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. nick

    No surprise here! These are the very same selfish, egocentric, spoiled brats which dominated the 60's, and 70's save their chant has changed from, "H_ll no I won't go!" to "What's in it for me," to their present repritory chants based on the same life-long theme:"I want it my way or else..." These Dr. Spook babies should have had their b_tt whipped when it would have done some good ..

    February 17, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  6. Chandler

    The Tea Party is made up of Rich White Men trying to portray themselves as "everyman".

    February 17, 2010 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  7. karen

    Sorry to point this out , Marie, but I've seen the English language annihilated on the Ticker as well.

    February 17, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  8. citizen - you better BELIEVE it !

    TEA PARTY – RIGHT ON! You betcha – TERM LIMITS – lets all vote for it. We need to have representation for OUR wishes – not those of the special interests or the politicians( that we have elected). NOVEMBER is coming. We the people will have OUR say. We are the VOTERS that can turn this country around and have it OUR way. These politicians should remember from where their PAY CHECK comes. WE THE PEOPLE HAVE CONTRIOL – we just need to EXERCISE IT> VOTES – thats the way. NOVEMBER is coming – PINK SLIPS are coming – I say, lets all wear PINK on voting day. That kind of movement should get the message across.

    February 17, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  9. nicepollcnn

    What your poll really indicates is that the Tea Party movement hasn't crossed most people's radars, it's not really even a credible threat to either party, and the funding base behind it is really inconsequential.

    I find it amusing that CNN has spent so much time and effort trying to characterize a "Tea Party Activist" as if it's some new species that needs classification. So much for actually discussing the issues.

    February 17, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  10. JM

    Pam from Iowa February 17th, 2010 12:39 pm ET

    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.
    Most of the member in articles I have seen look like retired folks (makes sense of course since us working stiffs don't have time to go to Nashville!), so many of them probably receive social security payments or use Medicare. 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!<--------------

    I would expect this kind of misinformed info from IOWA (Idiots Out Walking Around) Your property taxes that are assessed by you county pay for your schools, roads, and local law enforcement. Social Security Medicare is something that working people contribute to their entire life that has been hijacked by congress. Just look at your year end taxes to find out how much you have paid in to Social Security. I personally would rather have that money to put in to something that accurse interest. So Ms. Liberal from corn country get your facts straight before you spout off again....

    February 17, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  11. Bob in Pa

    NIce try CNN. BUt you can't paint the Tea Party movement as Radical Right WIng Racist White Guys, because that ploy has been used way too many times. Stop lying to the people in your reporting of the TP.

    Around here, the most vocal TPers are women and it is pretty much made up of equal parts men and women. We (they) are mostly independents or centrist Dems and Reps who are tired of politicians thinking they need to control the world.

    February 17, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  12. Frank in CA

    Three quarters attended college? Yeah, right... Sorry, but the statistics don't back that up – that's an embelished number, undoubtedly. The more educated someone is, the more likely they are to be a liberal, and the more uneducated someone is, the more likely they are to be a conservative. Those are the facts. I'm sure they simply went off of what the respondents told them, as if there was a way to check.

    February 17, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  13. William in Lake Count, Florida

    Three-fourths went to college? Probably marketing majors.

    February 17, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  14. Mark T

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

    To conservative voice:

    Have you seen ONE picture of these rallys? OK, maybe some of the Tea Partiers are bigger than others and there are women, but overall they're a very homogeneous group.

    Every election year there are candidates who run on being outside of DC and wanting to get in there and mix it up. Well, surprise, if they get elected, then they're in DC, and soon become insiders.

    February 17, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  15. Aaron

    The Tea Party Movement comprises a small segment of the American population that is out of touch with reality and out of touch with the values and ideas of most Americans. This is not a ethnically diverse movement. Once President Obama and the Democrats start delivering the goods they promised, this movement will disinsintergrate and disappear. The country has changed in fundamental ways demographically and in other ways that does not and will not accomodate tea party ideas and agendas.

    February 17, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  16. Lynn

    Isn't if strange, no Tea Parties during any of the previous administrations, only when a black man wins the White House. If anybody thinks it's not pure racism wrapped up in a pretty bow called Tea Parties, then they are badly mistaken. The GOP's motto might as well be - "Hell no, a black man in the White house, disgusting"..

    February 17, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  17. jm for sc

    The tea party activists are nothing more than a modern day version of the KKK. Anyone who has not realized that are walking around blind folded.

    If these people were interested in anything other than a white president, they would have been screaming bloody murder during the Bush Administration. I pray that young America will see through this and come out in large numbers to make sure they do not get their way.

    The real problem with congress is not President Obama, it is the fact that republicans as well as some democrats who are really undercover republicans, are working hard to make sure every thing promised during the campaign does not materialize. This will continue until republicans start getting voted out of office as a result of being the party of no. Otherwise, they will block all progress attempted with no regards to who suffers.

    February 17, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  18. vet4life63

    They are Tea party activist, not "teabaggers". Anyone ever hear of taxation without representation? It is taxation without representation when ever the elected officials do not listen to the people, but rather do their own dirty dealings to line their own pockets. To those that say "pay your taxes, you don't gripe when roads are built etc", I say remember when Obama was appointing his cabinet. In many cases it was very hard (and embarrassing) for him to find qualified candidates that had PAID THEIR TAXES. In short if it weren't for patriotic Americans, their would be no America. Patriotism is not a racism issue BTW. Most tea party members are not rascist. They just miss America.

    February 17, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  19. Aaron Seattle

    These people make me nuts. Where were they during the first 8 years of the last decade when the Bush administration kept cutting taxes yet increasing spending on the craziest things like..... oh I don't know.. 2 WARS!!!!!! Borrow and spend, which seems to be the Republican mantra, is poor fiscal responsibility and reasoning and everything we are going through now stems from the time when the Republicans (not the Democrats) were in power!!!! These people love nothing more than to point fingers and call names (offering no real viable solutions) at the people actually trying to clean up the mess left behind, blaming Obama for all their problems. It's pathetic how little sense any of the Tea Partiers have. The "Greatest Generation" and the Baby Boomers have bankrupted America and now are mad at the mess they created??? You people are pathetic.

    February 17, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  20. Bill from Greensboro

    If you think voting 'conservative' will fix things...you have taken the bait, hook, line, & sinker!!!! It's NOT about liberal or conservative! It's 'haves' vs. 'have nots'. The Congress, Supreme Court, President, are ALL doing just as they've been instructed to do by Wall Street. The goal is to fleece the middle class. Outsource their jobs, take their savings and 401Ks, foreclose on their mortgages, etc., etc., and etc. Take all their money! Give it to Wall Street!
    The Tea Party, unfortunately, are listening to Rush, Sarah, Newt, and the rest of talkers, and think that by electing new congressmen or Presidents to office, they can fix the problem. NOT!!! You have to go to a revamped tax system where businesses and individuals pay based on revenues, not expenses or profits. No deductions. No write-offs. Period. No Exceptions. Businesses could lay off whole buildings full of tax lawyers and CPAs that they now have and take the cost savings. You could do your taxes on a postcard. This is how we could cut taxes and the deficit.
    The other change would be term limits for every Congressman and Senator. No exceptions.

    February 17, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  21. Joe

    The Tea Party Chickens have come home to roost the first thing they will tell you is I am not a racist well maybe they just don't know the difference which makes them dumb as hell.......

    February 17, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  22. Ron -- Seattle

    I can't for the life of me understand why any thinking person identify themselves as a (fiscal) conservative, much less tea partier. Reagan moved the country to the right. Clinton followed keeping Reagan's appt of Greenspan (Libertarian and protégé of Ayn Rand) and his crew. Further deregulation. Bush disastrously moved the country even further right. All three branches of gov't controlled by conservatives for 6 of the last 8 years (prior to 2008 elections).

    Where did all this Conservative economic philosophy get us? Economic collapse, no real GDP per capita growth over other Western Nations, widening income gap, no real income growth for the last 20-30 years for anyone but the top 20% of Americans, crumbling infastructure, war for oil (Iraq), eroding American dominance in the World.

    Where's the disconnect?

    February 17, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  23. uzalex

    They are educated and Palin is their golden girl? Where did they get their education? Something is wrong with this picture.

    February 17, 2010 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  24. SweetP

    One bunch of BITTER, Obama Haters!

    February 17, 2010 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  25. Zman

    Where were these "patriots" when Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld began slowly shredding the Constitution and lying to the American people on a daily basis? Where were the patriots when Abu Ghraib (sp?) happened? When America lost its humanity and began openly using torture to extract information, why didn't the patriots demand an end to it immediately instead of defending it? Where were the patriots when it was revealed that the Bush White Housw was using Fox News as a propaganda tool? And who are the patriots who have called them to account for their crimes? Nixon spied on the Democrats and got forced out of office. Bush spied on whoever he felt like. Throw in torture authorization and this is still not enough to find enough patriots to ask for the same "justice" which was demanded of Nixon and Clinton.

    Obama was elected because he was not another warmongering right-winger. McCain was a continuation of "the Feds" and we were tired of it. He wanted to nuke Iran. The country's money was already gone due to the wars, unemployment and foreclosures were imminent. Bush had already approved the first financial bailout. Wall St. had been fed once already.

    The "socialistic" health plan everyone is so afraid of? It was one of the Republican Party's goals in 1956. So were humanity and an encouragement to "be liberal."

    The Tea Party has just now noticed that politicians "were only looking out for themselves"? I guess that's why they missed the whole Halliburton/Cheney thing. Those who don't know history...

    That's why, while 11% may support the Tea Party, "one in five say they oppose the Tea Party." That's 20%. Almost twice as many.

    And as was noted, the Tea Party is a subset of the GOP. So is the Christian right, which doesn't necessarily align with the TP. And who knows, there may be a few Republicans that would like to dip their toes into the mainstream again. All of this will splinter the GOP vote.

    As their logic is so erroneous as to sound contrived, it seems the only thing they really have a problem with is a black man as President.

    February 17, 2010 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
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