The Tea Party movement has the potential for significant political clout, but with challenges: high negatives, a fuzzy image and broader-than-ever skepticism about one of its most prominent backers, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Thirty-five percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll express a favorable opinion of the Tea Party overall, while 40 percent see it negatively. While that's far from ideal, another result bodes better: Forty-five percent agree at least somewhat with the movement's positions on the issues -- more than the 36 percent who disagree.
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On both questions substantial numbers -- a fifth to a quarter -- remain undecided about the movement. And nearly two-thirds don't yet have a strong sense of what the Tea Party's all about -- results that show the extent to which many minds have yet to be made up.
Palin's own ratings are weaker, apparently hurt rather than helped by her return to the spotlight. Fifty-five percent of Americans see her unfavorably, the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity, and 71 percent believe she's not qualified to serve as president, a position she said Sunday she'll consider seeking. Both negatives are at new highs.
Palin's more popular in her own party -- 69 percent of Republicans see her favorably. But far fewer, 37 percent, do so "strongly." (By contrast, in an ABC/Post poll last month, 70 percent of Democrats had a strongly favorable opinion of Barack Obama.) More problematic for Palin is that even in her own party 52 percent think she's not qualified for the presidency -- up by 16 points from an ABC/Post poll in November, shortly before the publication of her memoir, in which she criticizes the strategy of the 2008 Republican presidential campaign.
Far more Americans see Palin strongly unfavorably, 38 percent, than strongly favorably, 18 percent. Among independents -- swing voters in national politics -- just 36 percent see her favorably overall, vs. 53 percent unfavorably, and only 29 percent think she's qualified for the presidency.
TEA TIME -- The Tea Party may have more opportunities, but also faces risks. It's most popular among conservatives, Republicans, critics of the Obama administration, opponents of health care reform and those who are angry with the government. But the political center's more ambivalent: In terms of favorability, independents divide essentially evenly on the movement -- 39 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable.
More independents, 54 percent, say they agree at least somewhat with its positions on the issues. Again that shows potential, but closing the sale may not be a simple task: Few Americans, 14 percent, "strongly" agree with the Tea Party's positions as they know them, including 16 percent of independents, 25 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of conservatives. (Overall "strong" approval of Obama's job performance, again for comparison, is at 29 percent in this poll, a career low for the president.)
More people agree at least somewhat with the Tea Party's positions than see it favorably overall. That's because its favorability is attenuated, 57 percent, among people who agree, but just somewhat. Among those who strongly agree with the Tea Party's position, by contrast, 92 percent also view the movement favorably.