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. aw where's your sense of absurdity?

    I like the Tea Party People. They have silly faces that make me giggle. Oh my, how they make me want to chase butterflies and drink chocolate milk! If they had some funny hats, I mean really funny hats, they would finally be the president. Then we would have some pudding. Where's my socks?

    February 17, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. southerncousin

    Judging from the liberal name calling, demonization, degradation as a response to this post, I guess we can gather that liberals are dope smoking, non working Oprah watchers waiting for Obama to give them more money and take no personal responsibility for their lives.

    February 17, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  3. Terry

    I'm not surprised that tea-partiers claim to be college educated. There are tons of colleges in this country that have almost no academic standards at all, no selectivity in admissions, and cater specifically to white conservative rural communities. These "colleges" are nothing more than extended high schools.

    So yes, I can understand how the tea-partiers, with their lack of intellect can be mostly college educated. Anyone who claims that "liberals" are ruining the country obviously has a substandard intelligence or serious holes in their education.

    February 17, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  4. Chris

    Tea Party activists are "upscale"?!!? You're kidding me, right?

    February 17, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  5. Jeff W.

    "Who are the Tea Party activists" The answer is anti-intellectuals, aka "dumb people".

    February 17, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  6. Alex

    Americans tend to ignore Canada, but heed this lesson: up here back in the 90s we had a Tea Party-like movement called the Reform Party. They even became the official opposition for a time. Another Tea Party-like movement (tempered with Quebec separatism) called the Bloc Quebecois started up around the same time. The result was a 3-way split in small-c conservative voting that resulted in the Liberal party staying in power for many years. Only when the Reform party merged with the Progressive Conservative party were they able to finally (though barely) come to power in 2006. If the Tea Partiers are all conservatives (as opposed to their claim of being centrist) then they'll split the GOP vote if they turn into a party. If they want their coup, they're going to have to take over the Republican party – just as the Reform party quietly took over the Progressive Conservative party up here.

    February 17, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  7. Al-NY,NY

    College....the Cletus (slacked Jawed Yokel) Spuckler (from the Simpsons) School of vittles and roadkill

    February 17, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. ObamaShrugged

    College educated doesn't mean upscale. Plenty of cops, firemen and teachers are college educated. I'd consider them more blue-collar than upscale. 50% are from rural America? Wouldn't the other half then be from the cities? And 60% are male.

    And what about the Dems. 50% government employed, 50% unemployed.

    February 17, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  9. ezra

    Michael in Houston wrote :

    and how many minorities are in the tea party?

    I saw 2 at the rally.... Oh, wait they were just the cleanup crew hired by FOX.

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

    The " Tea Party" is nothing more than angry whitre people who can't grasp the concept of a Black man, President Barack Hussein Obama , as the leader of the USA anf the free world.

    We won the election...

    Let me say this to the Tea Bag people... "America love it or leave it."

    February 17, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  11. Scott, Tucson

    The average American people those who work for a living, are just getting fed up with Congress and I mean both parties. The politicians live high off the hog at our expense, while wanting to find new ways to tax us so to waste that money on more feel good social programs which don't work. It is time for a CHANGE! throw out all the incumbents for the next several election cycles. Maybe than they will listen to the people and not their own self serving interest.

    February 17, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  12. rasputinslovechild

    Whenever a third party movement arises pundits will claim it will damage their parties chances of victory. Nonsense, if people vote for people and issues they believe in instead of party lines this country would be much better represented. Single party rule is not democratic and using scare tactics to convince people to vote along party lines is evidence. This movement will no doubt fizzle from a lack of substance and leadership but at least they are trying. Sadly they are being influenced by the wrong people.

    February 17, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  13. r

    male, rural, upscale = Middle America??? when did that happen?

    February 17, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  14. Jeff

    ...stupid is as stupid does.

    I hope these intolerant white people give the dems all the help they can get since they clearly can't help themselves!

    February 17, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. Conservatism equals illiterate ignorance

    You have to remember they answered 'some' college, not college graduates and as all educated know, college is 2 years not 4, that takes more than just 'some' university time, in other words still the uneducated illiterate ultra conservative male masses of ignorance and bigotry, nothing new here move on, move on!

    February 17, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  16. John

    If the teabagers had any real smarts they would all vote for independants. Voting for either a Democrate or a Republican canidate just perpetuates the same failed system. Both the major parties have been bought and payed for by big corporations. Why put a different bunch of the same bozos in power. That is a for sure no winner. Both parties are to blame for the mess we'er in now and you want to put more of them in? If you put more Repubs in you get the failing of Bush as their mind set hasn't changed with the times. If you put more Dems in they just squbble over anything like chickens in a hen house-and nothing gets done. But with more Independants in, no party has a clear majority and they might start to work together again. Just a thought. is it working NOW.

    February 17, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  17. Scott H

    Here we go with the "but there's few minorities in the tea party". Okay, you try to be a black man or woman who speaks out against socialistic entitlements, even if you KNOW its what is partially to blame for the current state of black america. Such a person would get killed or ridiculed (or both) by their own community that has grown dependent on someone elses money. So lets get that bit of honesty on the table.

    February 17, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |

    Seems like they are mostly white males who by the way lie. They claim to be independents but, 87% would vote for the GOP. Hardly independent thinking. Were they asked if they are afraid? They should have, because it's obvious that they are very afraid, Fix News makes sure that they keep these people living in fear, in fear of anything and everything. Were they asked if they are racist? Again, they should have been. Look through all of the photos you have ever of the teabaggers, do you see any minorities, any at all? Nope, just white. (in case you're curious, yes I'm white). The difference is I'm a true independent, I know how to think for myself, do my own research and reach my own conclusion. I don't need Beck to tell me how to think or who to fear. Speaking of Glen Beck, isn't it time for him to check back into mental health hospital (for the 4th time)? It's truly amazing how these fearful little minds follow another fearful little mind. I believe the same thing happened in 1938 when another fearful little mind preached nothing but hate and fear.

    February 17, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  19. Ethan

    TEABAGGERS = REPUBLICAN PARTY - Gee, what a shock.

    February 17, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  20. JR

    11% of the Public, yet all you hear them these nuts is "We want to take back our country", well you know what , it isn't your country, it belongs to the other 89%

    February 17, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  21. Slider

    I don't care how leftists try to label and classify the Tea Party movement.

    The only thing that matters is how they, and other political movements end the agenda of our current Jive Turkey in Chief.

    February 17, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  22. AaronP

    You forgot one other description. Racist.

    February 17, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  23. russell

    If your so fed up with the government , then do not take anything from them ,that means social security , medicare and medicade , don't drive on out roads , don't use our airports, instead of sitting here complaining about the current administration ( and we all know the real reason , most of you probably hate minorities ) as if they've done something too you , and if your not of the 1% of this country what makes these titbaggers think that by putting the GOP back in control is gonna help them...............................racist cowards !

    February 17, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  24. Ferret out the BS

    Re: Stevegee.... Nice to see you're the self proclaimed expert on what's wrong with this country and how to fix it. Wow a 2fer....blame and a solution all in one comment!

    February 17, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  25. Joe

    "Our freedom and liberty are at stake" , really, wasn't it GW who took away our freedom and claimed it was because of 9/11? Please, all you get with voting conservative is a country that prays to a non-existant "god", prayer in schools, the poor kicked to the curb, corporate america running amock, alternative energy efforts stopped, more wars over oil, no middle class, silly holidays like "national day of prayer", elitism, fear, hatred of people differnt from themselves "white men", bad air, bad water, no transit systems, larger cars, rampant waste, etc, etc, etc. I'm not sure of one thing the Republicans have done to help this country....and please don't say tax cuts as they are for themselves, the wealthy, corporations etc. Their new motto will be "In Exxon / Mobile We Trust"

    February 17, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
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