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. Jimmy James

    Hmmm. The press is starting to pay attention to them instead of mocking them as "teabaggers". Calling them names and ignoring them didn't work. Lets try labeling them and dissecting them. That might make them irrelevant. They aren't trying to form a 3rd party. They are simply a group with like convictions and beliefs. When the left organizes it's called " grass roots" but when conservatives or independents organize they are ridiculed, called extremists and dismissed. Which is more extreme, moveon.org and ACORN or the teaparty?

    February 17, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  2. jerseylou

    The tea party baggers are nothing but republicans.All of them need to gather up their belongings and move to Alaska and live happily ever after.

    February 17, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  3. JonDie

    Unfortunately the United States has a large number of lunatics (called the Tea Party) who actually think that the government that was founed in the late 1700s should be put back into place...to solve our 21st problems. No sane person thinks that each "patriot" should live in his or her neighborhood bunker, armed to the teeth and depending on the local militia to protect him or her from the Redcoats. But this is EXACTLY what the Tea Party believes.

    February 17, 2010 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  4. What a Joke

    Sarah Palin would be legitimate if she would be across the board with wanting to stop people from using the "R" word. Rush Limbaugh clearly use the word to describe people even when he was talking about what was said. He made the comment on the radio for millions to hear. Not to excuse Rahm Emanuel, but his comment was through a private meeting that became public. Sarah please do us a favor – when you want to call somebody out – CALL EVERYBODY OUT. Don't pick and choose and then downplay when one of your fellow cohorts use the same word REGARDLESS of the context. That is the problem, nobody has the guts to stand up to their own party lines for fear of being lambasted and then having to tuck your tail and apologize for the apology.

    February 17, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  5. geecee

    I agree with most of the adjectives you attribute to a teabagger, but "upscale"? Do you mean wealthy? Well, I am sure they don't want their taxes raised, yes. But if you mean "upscale" in terms of education and lifestyle, I think you may be mistaken. They strike me as a bunch of old, white, bigoted, selfish, ultra-conservative, uneducated, misinformed, gullible, government-hating hypocrites. When they give up their Social Security checks and Medicare, then maybe I'll believe they are sincere.

    February 17, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  6. Fair is Fair

    "Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college"

    How can this be, Obamatards? I thought they were all uneducated backwoods hayseeds?

    Time to get a reality check, dudes. Even the most partisan liberal hacks (with the exception of MSNBC opiners, but they're a different breed altogether) have admitted the Tea Party is going to be a major voice shaping politics in America.

    But by all means... put your collective heads in the sand over facts you know are true, but simply don't wish to believe.

    February 17, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  7. D

    Typical GOP...can't even protest without paying admission fee's. Then again, I guess it doesn't matter when you are in a socialist system and will get your bailouts and payoffs at the expense of the working class. We allow these businesses to make high risk investments, bankrupt the world, at NO risk to themselves. Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor.......don't believe their garbage, we have been giving money to phone companies, airlines, drug companies, (the list goes on and on) for years. No more corporate handouts, let them join the unemployment line like the rest of us.

    February 17, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    Yes and another line of thinking is that these morons are actually covert GOP goons whose real goal is to disrupt the current administration and nothing more. Remember the town hall meetings?

    February 17, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  9. kmp

    As much as I do not agree with the Tea Party movement I hope they continue on and actually try to run canidate here in 2010. As mentioned it will help ensure Democrats victory.

    February 17, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. harvey

    we will find a fiscal concervitave with a limited government mindset that will win in 2012...... and boot all the liberal parasites out!

    February 17, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  11. DRCinDC

    hard to believe that many college educated people are stupid enough to spend time listening to a flake like Palin. I guess 'college education' doesn't assure intelligence.

    February 17, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  12. Angie in Pa

    The Tea Baggers are a bunch of old white people who cannot handle the fact that we have a Black President! just look at their rallies No Hispanics, No African Americans, straight up whit racisit!! That is the bottom line with the tea baggers!

    February 17, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  13. Lisa in FL

    And how many tea partiers surveyed are non-white? How many have attended a KKK meeting or subscribe to the Aryian Nation newsletter? Now, that is a poll that would really show some insight.

    February 17, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  14. stevegee

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

    We're not limited to one locale or income classification or political party. We're simply hard-working citizens who have been playing by the rules. And after all these decades of voting for people we thought would take care of our country, we've now realized that they were only looking out for themselves.

    It's time for us to clean out Congress and purge it of liberals and bureaucrats. Then we'll have to make the hard choices so we can clean up the mess they've gotten us into.

    Vote conservative from now on ... Our freedom and liberty are at stake.

    February 17, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  15. Marie MD

    Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, according to a new national poll. You forgot to add keeping their women barefooted, pregnant and in the kitchen.
    The three quarter of the activist might have attended college, but when you have signs that are misspelled it doesn't say much for them (i.e., consitution and my favorite instead of public opinion pubic opinion).
    Oh yes, the dumbing of America!! 🙂 🙂

    February 17, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  16. steven harnack

    About the college part? After seeing and hearing teapartyers, I'd wager that they lied about the college attendance. They seem to me to be uncommonly stupid.

    February 17, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  17. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    I am not a big fan of the Tea Party – I think it will be taken over by the racial right wing religious-state folks.

    However, Obama has to take some blame in this. He used the liberal vote to get into office and now shows his true colors: pro-nuclear, pro-War, pro-bank-corporations, and doing very little to promote the progressive agenda beyond words and threatening conservatives.

    He has now put the RNC on the defensive, alienated a good portion of the DNC that voted him in. The general feeling is that government has failed us.

    Thanks for the Tea Party, Obama!

    February 17, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  18. Dave

    The real problem is the attempts by the neo-cons (like Palin and Beck) to hijack the true movement and turn it into something it's not.

    February 17, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  19. tinri

    I can't believe CNN actually paid money to conduct a poll to learn that. Wasn't it already quite obvious. Tea party people are the activist angry wing of the republican party who believe the reason republicans lost the Presidency and Congress is because the candidate was not conservative enough. However, splitting votes in the general between a tea party and a GOP candidate is not something the democrats can count on. 95% of all the tea party and GOP contests will be at the primary level where a tea party candidate could pull off a win (See Florida). The Democrat's job in the general will be to split off the rationally sane independents from the tea party radical right.

    February 17, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  20. IVOTE

    Don't beleive this hype.

    February 17, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  21. SocialismBad

    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.

    February 17, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  22. mike angel

    Instead of putting this poll to public, who already have a misconception of Tea partiers. CNN has not done one journalistic job to investigate and describe them first. CNN went out of their way to report and profile Cindy Sheehan and her radical bunch of wackos (putting her in good lite) but have yet to describe the tea party. Ridiculous investigative journalism.

    February 17, 2010 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  23. Conservative Voice

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

    February 17, 2010 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  24. The reality check's in the mail

    This just in: most Tea Partiers are really rightwing Republicans in drag. In other shocking revelations, the moon isn't really made of cheese and earth circles the sun, not vice-versa.

    February 17, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  25. mike

    And the most obvious, yet most non-reported thing is that they are 99% white.

    February 17, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
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