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. CNN needs a poll for this???

    Wow, the brilliance of the CNN reporters is overwhelming.

    Let's see... Tea Partiers are common sense conservative people.

    The GOP is the conservative party.
    Democrats are hijacked by radical liberals.

    So, whom do you think the Tea Partiers would represent in a race?

    February 17, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  2. patNY

    Tea Party members are Klan members who forget to where their sheets and hoods.

    February 17, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  3. james Miller

    Do these people work ?-– If not, why don`t they spend time looking for employment??

    February 17, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  4. KC

    Maybe at the next convention they could all go deer hunting with Jesus. If we let a bunch of dumb rednecks run this country it will be time to evacuate. Palin/Perry 2012!!!

    February 17, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. Joseph-Ohio

    Great, just what this country needs, another group of ultra conservatives hanging their hats on their moral beliefs while raping the nations's enconomy to keep the mega rich richer. What gets me is, many of these people do not benefit from the very priciples they claim they want. Our way of life in this country is on a fast track to crash a burn if our Government does not learn to stop spending more money than it takes in. This is not a party issue this is a Governement issue. Both parties are just as much to blame as the other, and now here comes a brand new group of conservatives to say the world.........Oh Joy! Give it a break!

    February 17, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  6. Bill of Florida

    People in the Tea Party movement may feel legitimately 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 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 and joined it. 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 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 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  7. OldUncleTom

    I don't know how anyone could take a poll on this topic that would represent anything other than the pollsters' opinions.

    There are too many things to pre-suppose to expect less than 2000 responses to be indicative of a fringe (yes, 10 million people is still "fringe" in America) movement's realities.

    February 17, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  8. Bob in VA

    So much for Tea Party claims about how "independent" they are. This is nothing but a bunch of rightwingnuts who are mad that the Republican Party is not conservative enough, but of course would almost all vote GOP if the choice was GOP or Dem.

    Suprise, surprise.

    February 17, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  9. ray

    these people are white, racists, immigrant haters. bigots and most of supposedly christians. hahahah what a joke .

    February 17, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  10. Sue

    Here is the bottom line...............

    No matter who the tea party members support during the primaries.......

    When it comes down to the actual elections.........the tea party members will get behind the conservative candidate (the Republican)......before they will vote for a tax/spend liberal Democrat.

    The majority of the tea party members are Independents. The majority of Independents do NOT support the policies/agendas of Obama, Pelosi, Reid and the liberal Democrats-–the elections in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts proved this.

    Therefore, the Democrats should DEFINITELY be worried about the "tea party" movement.

    February 17, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  11. SCOTO

    No demographic on their age or educational background? Very strange that those are not presented. I'm guessing from the film I've seen of them that we are talking mostly older and or retired
    The popularity of Palin amongst them points to pretty low level of education and a simplistic world view.

    February 17, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  12. Sniffit

    Mark my words: ZERO "Tea Party Candidates" will run in elections where the incumbent is a GOPer that is either (a) a safe bet to win (e.g., some redneck state) or (b) has a good shot of overtaking a Dem incumbent in a swing-vote type area (i.e., most likely replacing a "Blue Dog" where the conservative voters have been convinced to have buyer's remorse by all the "socialism" and "tax and spend" rhetoric). The sole reason the Teatards were created with the help of ultra-conservatives and the GOP was to make far right idiocy look more mainstream than it really is, thereby convincing the portion of the public that goes with the flow in lieu of critical thought to move to the right.

    February 17, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  13. U M Win

    It is a "movt" who don"t like and against current policies ,and not a party. They are real people like workers, housewives, small business owners with strong base and background , not a fake ones like acorn people. Among them, each one's movt can be based on ideology or real life sufferings but it is a real voice,reasonable. Needs try to listen and hear them, don't bias or false brand or look down.

    February 17, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  14. anyone

    Did anyone see the video of Sarah Palin wanting new 911 investigations?

    February 17, 2010 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  15. Red state gone blue voter

    Where are the sheets?

    February 17, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  16. Keeth in California

    "Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college."


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

    Still no minorities....looks like an AARP meeting. Ya....let the old white has beens set policy....well...at least it is easy to calculate the life expectancy of this retarded movement......GO INTO THE LIGHT!!!!!

    February 17, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "and how many minorities are in the tea party?"

    All of them. The Teatards are a vast minority of the people in this country. The media is just humping their leg because they are loud, controversial and a self-perpetuating "news" story machine for the time being...sort of like Palin is, which is why that nitwit disaster has been given so much spotlight despite the general public recognizing that she's not fit to run a Burger King.

    February 17, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  19. Kat

    Just like the media to try and play down the importance of the tea party movement. I applaud them for standing up for the constitution. We the taxpayers have been shafted enough to pay for social programs that have failed. Keep it up! We need plain people standing up against the corruption in our government, Dems and Repubs alike. Clean up Washington. We need a government who listens to us and not just take our money and run. I think the media and the government underestimated the power and importance of the teaparty movement. I pray for their commitment. America is awake now.

    February 17, 2010 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  20. CJJ

    Uh, excuse me? Vote conservative? As in vote for the folks that were in control for most of the past decade and who raped the middle class while destroying the economy? Conservative political policy has been demonstrated to be a huge fail. Wake up.

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  21. Just wait till November

    "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."

    The above is a perfect example of the lunacy of the liberal mind. It is the conservatives and Tea Partiers who are sick and tired of footing the bill for lazy liberals and welfare "professionals" who suck the very life - and all the money - out of our economy. The top 10 percent of wage earners, i.e., male, rural, upscale, overwhelmingly conservative and college-educated people pay more than 70 percent of the tax bill in the USA. That is a fact.

    Pam from Iowa, like all liberals, has not a clue about who pays for what in our country.

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  22. As a moderate republican myself

    Any candidate who affiliate themselves with this hatred group will not see my vote ever but a vote against them. PERIOD

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. SocialismBad

    It is amazing how ridiculously stupid so many of the crazy liberals are on this board. They think or imply just because there are no black or Hispanic faces in the crowd, that the people in the Tea Party crowds are racists. I guess this is their juvenile way of smearing them or dismissing them. In actuality, those types of smears only generate larger crowds and involvement.

    Stopping an ever growing federal government from bankrupting this nation and trampling the rights of its citizens has NOTHING to do with race you imbeciles. Of course, most of you are probably the racists you accuse others of being. I've got ten dollars on you being government dependents as well.

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  24. Sgt. USMC


    I'm responding to your comment because I find it odd that you think liberals got us into this "mess". I wasn't aware that Bush is a liberal now. You also say that you're not limited to one locale or income class or political party. So why is it that at your rallies people show up with confederate flags, tickets to your conventions go for over $500 and the majority are republicans. Contradicting? Look steve, may I call you steve? Steve, I know you're a good guy at heart, however the people you surround yourself with are confused and mistake political and social bias as patriotism. Want to be a patriot? Shake a veteran's hand and thank him for our freedom. Don't think a politician is going to give you that, there's too much self interest in Washington. Fly a flag outside your home! You'll get more out of that than relying on so called "conservatives".

    have a nice day!

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  25. Honest AB

    Conservative Voice- Two words; YOU LIE!!!!!!!

    February 17, 2010 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
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