February 17th, 2010
01:12 PM ET
11 years ago

CNN Poll: Who are the Tea Party activists

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/17/art.teaparty.file.gi.jpg caption="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. VernisRobertson

    The Tea Party members of the Klu Klux Klans .And racial radicles of the Republican party .

    February 17, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  2. Too True For You

    Looking at the mis-spelled signs and the ignorant rhetoric they barf hysterically all over the nearest microphone, I too REALLY find it hard to believe the tea-baggers are college educated. Well, maybe unless they are graduates of one of those bible-based Christian madrassas that pose as real universities.

    Anyone else notice the hypocrisy of how conservatives love to rail against the "librul" college system, yet revel in a poll showing they hold a college degree? How they like to paint educated elitists as the bad guys yet squeal with glee over a poll that shows they ARE the educated elitists and not the ignorant hillbillies they act like?

    I would love to see where they got their degrees because I have kids going to college and I want to spend my money opening their minds instead of closing them.

    February 17, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  3. RTB

    Tea Party activists are a group of uninformed and misinformed individuals who are yelling about issues they know little about. Expressing solutions that are vague and childish.

    "More freedom" is one of their slogans. What does that mean?

    February 17, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  4. Tony - FLA

    I guess that I am in that 1% minority as some have stated, you know, not of that 99% white of the movement. You have seem to have an issue with our Constitution. If you guys are that much against our Constitution please leave. There are many countries out there that will take care of you that you can move to. Why do you stay? If you are looking for the nanny state or cradle to grave society move. If you feel that you can't cut it here, if you can't stand on your own two feet, if you feel that you need your mommy for the rest of your life, there are many other countries that with fill that void. Please don't let the door hit you on the way out. My name is Antonio Neves and I approve this message.

    February 17, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  5. gl, From Pittsburgh

    Conservative Voice February 17th, 2010 12:23 pm ET

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

    Until I see other colors, I will continue to believe they are nothing but a bunch of racisdt white hatful men.

    February 17, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  6. Carolyn Jones

    It is obvious who the Tea Party Leaders are; Racist, Terriost, KKK, who are leading narrow-minded people giving them a reason to riot – They are lead by the GOP they should all be arrested – along with the dismanteling of the GOP who is only a part of the problem; not the solution

    February 17, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  7. Diana

    "Upscale" and "educated" are not what comes to mind while watching those rallies. They're a bunch of mouth-breathing Bubbas who have no clue about math, the Constitution or how government works.

    February 17, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  8. dk2009

    First regarding 3rd parties, our voting should be a ranking system: you should have the option of ranking the candidates in order of preference. This way if want to rank your top two (or three) picks in order of preference you aren't dooming your choices to loose to your least favorite pick. (I threw my vote away on Ross Perot when we had a chance to fix the debt crisis back before it was beyond a crisis.) Second, there should be term limits, preferably a limit of 1 term but even 2 would be better than nothing. At the very least no one should be allowed to serve in Congress for more than 8 years. And, no, I'm not a fan of the Tea Party (in fact, it scares me) but I'd still support a ranking vote system just so that we can start real reform soon than later, rather than suffer through more of this nonsense.

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

    What a surprise, all you lefties are lining up to play the race card against the TEA party. You try to paint them as racist, uneducated, redneck men and conveniantly ignore the fact that 3/4 of them attended college, 40% are women, and half are from urban areas. I'm from an urban area and believe it or not there's many conservative blacks, asians, and other minorities who support the TEA party.

    I'll bet most of you lefties don't even know that TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already. This movement is not about race at all – it's about reining in a bloated, out of control federal government that has taken for itself far more power and responsibility than the founders ever intended. But then you don't respect the founding fathers because you believe they were all a bunch of racist, slave owning, plantation owners.

    You can hope all you want for the TEA party to sabotage republicans in the election but it's not going to happen. We may be more conservative than the average republican candidate but we're not stupid and will certainly support them when the alternative is so much worse.

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

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

    Yeah, white and privileged.

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

    After seeing the Tea Party rally in Washington. I have come to the conclusion that These people are just the NEW FACE OF THE KLAN.

    This is not about conservative politics. This is about RACE.

    February 17, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  12. W l Jones

    Well well if it weren^t for the conservative delivering Government bacon they all will be standing in the welfare line like everybofy else. At that time it were good government now they have theirs it is the worse thing on the planets.

    February 17, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  13. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert but....

    Who are they? A bunch of morons who have no idea how our economy works. See, our economy depends on spending. If the citizens aren't spending, and the private sector isn't spending, who's left? That's right, the government. Y'all act as if this was a permanent situation and not a painful but much needed effort to ward off a full blown depression. Read up on Herbert Hoover and get some perspective, morons. Have a nice day!

    P.S. Exactly which taxes has Obama raised?

    February 17, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  14. Marc

    Tea Partiers, due to the absurd small number (if any) of non-whites that goes to their rallies, reminds me of the KKK right after the First World War. They claimed to be a conservative group bent on protect America and its liberties/principles. It was a hype and, for a while, even in the North and West Coast their numbers were counted by the millions.
    Then they showed their true colors...
    And the hype ended abruptly.

    February 17, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  15. DN Gant

    The author neglected to mention that the Tea Party is made of mostly white men. The lack of color in the Tea Party is the most obvious testament to their values or lack there of. Need I say more.

    February 17, 2010 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "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."

    Not true. CNN sent its "journalists" to the Teatard "convention" to interview Teatards and help them advertise their "party" as a big deal grass roots movement sweeping the nation. They also spend an obscene amount of time talking to Ron Paul and his puppet son. In fact, if you don't think that CNN has done the Teatards a massive favor by providing free advertising through an inordinant amount of air-time, including all the time spent talking about the "big deal convention" of just 600 people paying $500 each attend an ideological prayer meeting that opened with a racist/xenophobic speaker from Colorado and ended with the glorious idiocy of the Palinbot, then you're just a Limbot who gobbles it up every time someone complains about the "liberal media conspiracy."

    February 17, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  17. Bill of Florida

    People in the Tea Party movement may feel legitimately alienated by the federal government, because they feel that they are not adequately represented by the government; however, they run the risk of becoming a fascist movement that will represent everything they hate. After reading many of THEIR statements, it's becoming increasingly apparent that they represent a very limited set of self interests that would impose its will on the rest of this country without the slightest bit of interest in the needs and wants of everyone else. Our country was founded on the rights of the individual, but that doesn't mean that a small group of people should impose its will on the rest of us. We are a diverse nation that prides itself on pluralism; hence, the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum. Recently, I saw a page for the Coffee Party on Facebook. When I showed it to my daughter, she quipped, "Every stupid action has an equal, opposite stupid reaction." I don't know if the Coffee Party is going to show itself to be as self interested as the Tea Party has, but I appreciate her point. I'm so lucky to have such a smart daughter. we need to be careful about such movements, and here is my advice: don't become what you hate.

    February 17, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  18. Mathew


    I can understand the annoyance with the Feds...but where were you guys when Bush burned money in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or when he treaded the line on warrantless wiretapping? And keep in mind before Obama came into power, Bush issued a bailout as well. Obama is not without his faults, but tea party folks should understand that both parties are at fault...not just one guy (Obama).

    If you want to push for smaller governmental interference, fine (and I'm sure you'll find alot of support)...but at least be consistent with it. Both parties have their share of faults and both ultimately do not care for the people of this country.

    February 17, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  19. once upon a horse

    sorry but from the signs I see and the way a lot of these folks act, I doubt if they are "upscale" unless they changed the meaning of that word recently. Most people who are "upscale" are educated and tend NOT to vote Republican nor follow the likes of Sarah Palin...check out the demographics of past elections and see for yourself.

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


    February 17, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  21. Larry

    Just a bunch of screamers with apparently nothing else to do but complain ... as well having no real solutions of their own ...

    Sounds like a typical bunch of Republicans to me ...

    They could all fall off the face of the earth for all we care ...

    Leaving us real Americans to help build this country up, without their big mouths trying to tear it down ...

    February 17, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. JB

    The problem with third parties is they tend to be an even more radical version of whichever party they break from. Both Dems and Repub parties are already too far to the extreme. I would support a more center-leaning third candidate. The teabaggers are just flippin' nuts. I look forward to the day we see them in the same light we now see that loony Ross Perot.

    February 17, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  23. sara

    The poll didn't state it.....but also RACIST.

    February 17, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  24. sameolebluedog

    I just think it's nice that white men have a place in which to be macho. What, they have big trucks, weight rooms, harley davidsons and the Tea Parties to let out some of their frustrations. Let's just hope they're not voting a certain way to make up for some, let's say incompetencies, in other areas of their lives. Or even if they are, I think it's sweet that they have this little outlet. I mean, it makes them feel useful, even though they have no idea they would be turning this country in to a corporate run oligarchy that would be bankrupt like the soviet union in 10 years. Just look at the 1920's and 2008.

    February 17, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  25. chad in seattle, wa.

    no poll was needed.
    the pictures from thier demonstrations show how old, white, rural, stupid, pathetic, and scared of "change" they are.

    February 17, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
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