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. Jim

    These guys will be swallowed up by the GOP. They may be independents, but they are ultra right wing. So either they vote Repub or stay home.

    February 17, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  2. Beth

    Upscale?!!!!! From looking at the pictures of the rallies, most of these guys look like Joe the Plumber.

    February 17, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  3. Rachel

    Where was the tea party during the former administration? It's a bit suspect that all these people came out in protest as soon as Obama got elected. I do believe that the last admin's unfettered spending should have gotten a bit more of this outrage at gov't deficits. Sorry, but I just can't help but think that there is something more to it than that. The tea partiers also don't seem so concerned that the SCOTUS just gave a big boost to companies outright owning governments. Shouldn't that be an issue?

    February 17, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  4. Jane/Seattle

    Plese don't be racist by saying that they are mostly white!!!!!!

    There is nothing wrong with being white but Obama whats you to think there is.

    February 17, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  5. DK

    The problem with the Tea Party is that it's made up primarily of Republicans that want their party back. The danger in that is if the Republican Party wants to go to the right....then the Tea Pary movement is over. It's basically people that are for fiscal responsibility – which I am for but I'm more in the middle on many things. I have democratic and republican opinions on things. This movement I think was created to bring the Republican party more back to it's roots...and being an organization that can do rallies and get attention while not being the Republican party. Have to remember – Dick Armey is a major leader in the organization. We do need a third party for sure in my opinion but this is not it...it's a start but it's not it. This group is not like Perot's group or other 3rd party groups....it's made up of Republicans for the most part. If they would be more moderate on a lot of issues...then it would swell and become a legitimate 3rd party.

    February 17, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  6. John, Brooklyn, NY

    CNN...please have the guts to post my comments on your failure to conduct decent investigative reporting.

    February 17, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  7. Len (Colorado)

    All the comments below are true. The American people know what the tea party is about: We have ours and we do not care about you. And yes, all white.

    February 17, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  8. Andy from NYC

    These tea partiers are just the same old, same old disgruntled GOP membership. Just warmed over Ross Perot-ites with killer bees in their bonnets.

    February 17, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  9. vgal

    The teapartiers are stupid and crazy enough to ruin their own chances by running a 3rd party candidate. Go for it.

    February 17, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. gl, From Pittsburgh

    Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas.

    Rich angry white men that already have a big problem with black men and now they really are angry becasue the one person these rich white men hate is now their President.

    It didn't take a rocket science to figure out who these Tea Baggers really are because these same Tea Baggers didn't speak out this much for the last 8 years becasue Bush look and is more like them.

    This Tea Bagger movement is nothing more then a racist movement and this is why they love saying things like we want our country back, but know they can not say from this black man, but we all know what them really mean even if they don't say it. These Tea Baggers won't be happen until they start another CIVIL WAR!

    February 17, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  11. hobart

    So much for how Faux News, and the media in general, portray the Tea Party as a grassroots, middle America, independent (most swing voters are moderates) movement. At least the Tea Party activists polled were honest in saying who they really were.

    Most are well off financially and make over $50K per year; and, nearly 80% of them are conservative as opposed to moderate, and vote overwhelmingly for Republicans.

    What's interesting is who the Tea Baggers are not. They are not the jobless; they are not the one's stuck with underwater mortgages; they are not the one's without health insurance. In short, they are not the folks on "Main Street" that have been hurt by the policies of big government and the behavior of "Wall Street."

    Rather, Tea Baggers are nothing more than "haves" who resent having to pay taxes at all, and especially who resent taxes being spent on anything remotely for the common good, like roads, public schools, social security, medicare, etc. In short, Tea Baggers are the right wing fringe of the Republican Party whose only dissatisfaction with their chosen party is that it isn't radical enough.

    February 17, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  12. Tommy

    This is news? One look at any snapshot of a Tea Party rally is like a Where's Waldo picture? Instead, the picture is Where's the black person?

    I've often wondered why so many tea party rallies take place during the day. The answer is because these people either hold banker's hours (golf on Thursday) or are retired. All they care about is that things work for them. Screw the rest of the country.

    And these people call themselves patriots? Pulllleeease!!!

    February 17, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  13. Stallion

    I have attended 2 Tea Party meetings just to see "what" was going on. What I found was a group of people from all walks of life and nationalities. They want a functional representative government,

    February 17, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  14. not_a_dem_anymore

    who cares if they are predominantly caucasian?! Caucasions DO represent a signifcant majority in the united states – expecially in suburban and rural america where conservatism thrives. It is not the caucasian's nor the tea party's fault that the minorities would rather suckleat the teet of big gov't than become self-sustaining and productive members of society

    February 17, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  15. Rachel

    Look at all the democrats out in full force today-and why is that? Because Democrats want to be taken care of by the government handouts instead of making an honest living. And I am a Caucasian/Christian Female 35, annual income.......... far from wealthy. Please stop with the name calling, so classless.............................

    February 17, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  16. SC-Pub "no" more

    Maybe, I missed it, but CNN's report above has ONE glaring omission...80% are white!

    And on the college front, here again CNN misleads by saying three out of four "attended" college, while in fact ONLY 40% say they have a college degree and nearly 1/3 have only a high school diploma or less.

    Other stats.. they are 70% protestant; 60%male; and 91% from either rural or suburban area.

    So, what we have is a White, Anglo, Protestant group that votes overwhelmingly Republican. Just afew years ago, we called these folks WASP...so what has changed?

    Did we really need a poll to show that they were overwhelmingly conservative, protestant white males who supported Republicans? We could have looked at a picture of a rally and seen this.

    What is NEW here ? It is as if the media has just discoverd this bunch.

    February 17, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  17. Lee

    If three-quarters of the Tea Partiers went to college, then the remaining 25% must be the ones making all the protest signs.

    February 17, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  18. Rick

    The Tea Party was formed by people for whom the Republican Party wasn't stupid enough. Look at who they admire: Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Backman and Glen Beck. Need I say more?

    February 17, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  19. Russ

    Well, shucks, nearly 3/4 of Tea Partiers have attended college? They sure ain't learnt much for being college edgeimicated. They are a bunch of misfits trying to relive their college party days, only their sober, I think, and still don't make any sense. Still trying to be the rebellious punks that they wanted to be as teenagers, but couldn't because their parents had some common sense and wouldn't let them. God help our country if these morons have any say in our futrue.

    February 17, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  20. Equality for all

    If you read the whole poll, you get a pretty clear picture of who these tea party people are: angry, white, Christian, moderate income, moderately educated, mostly male. These people are having trouble with the fact that in the very near future, they will be the minority. They want to turn back the hands of time to a decade when they reined supreme above all other people simply because of their race and sex. Thank goodness for the rest of us, time will march forward and the days of male, white dominance is coming to an end!

    February 17, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  21. Danny

    Tea Party members, at least those I saw on TV, are mostly older white men that live in rural areas who apparently don't like paying taxes but seem to enjoy the benefits of "socialism" such as SSI and Medicare. Their mantra is "We got ours so screw the rest of you".

    February 17, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  22. MsDp

    I'm sorry, but this group of activist is a racist group of people who are misinformed and will not accept the truth from any Black man or Black group or any Minority group. And the saddist part of it all is that none of us are Americans, we are all immigrants either voluntarily or non-voluntaily. Hint, hint: The American Indians found this place(AMERICA) FIRST!!!!

    February 17, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  23. Otto

    Percentage of minorities in the Tea Party = ZERO
    Percentage of working middle class = ZERO
    Percentage of old white folks = 99.99
    Percentage of retired white folks = 99.9
    Percentage of people who hates this half black President = 100

    February 17, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  24. TR

    Type classifying this demographic under an identity only serves to further describe how divided the US has become. Minorities are not apart of this movement becasue they have chosen other movements to algin with. The Tea Party is keenly aware of the need for a diversified face in order to maintain legitimacy. More than likely, diversification (social engineering)will not be a hallmark of this movement.

    What this group does represent is a departure from the past...they vote Republican because that part of the political spectrum is all that is available to them ideologically. The US is socially and politically lost, movements like the Tea Party may shape how we look in the future and that future may not be organized under a single Federal Government.

    February 17, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  25. Sadie

    Tea Baggers are rich, white men, Where were these people when Bush was running up the debt in this country with 2 Wars, trying to take away our Freedom of Privacy......where were their CRY's then......they don't want a Black man as President, no matter how good or how bad he might be, they don't want the minorities of this country having any say so in our Government.......they want to be telling us all how we are to vote and how we are to think and what kind of Family morals we should have........have all the conventions you want but come the Next Presidental election we will vote for the one that is trying his best to get us out of this mess and he is the Black man that the conservative right wing can't stand........

    February 17, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
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