Poll: In the Tea Party Movement, Possibilities - and Challenges

Conservative Republicans dominate the Tea Party movement, marking both its strengths in establishing a unified political message – and its challenges in attracting broader support.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans support the Tea Party, this ABC News/Washington Post poll finds, including 17 percent who back it "strongly" and just 2 percent who say they're active participants. Its backers overwhelmingly reject the Obama administration, and many voice dissatisfaction with Washington, favor smaller government and express economic anxiety.

Click here for a PDF with charts and questionnaire.

While that reflects a motivated political base, the movement's broader appeal is in question. Nearly as many Americans oppose the Tea Party as support it. More say they like it less, rather than more, as they hear more about it. Far more are tuning it out than are highly interested. And association with the Tea Party may cost congressional candidates more votes than it attracts, particularly among better-educated Americans, whose election turnout tends to be high.

Among registered voters, 15 percent say they'd be more likely to support a candidate for Congress who's associated with the Tea Party movement – but 24 percent say they'd be more apt to oppose such a candidate. Focusing on strong sentiment produces a similar result: Just 9 percent are "much" more likely to support a Tea Party candidate, vs. 17 percent much more likely to oppose one.

The impact of a candidate's association with the Tea Party is more negative among Democrats than it is positive among Republicans, and nearly a wash among independents. It's much more of a negative for political moderates and especially among college-educated voters, among whom 36 percent are more likely to oppose a Tea Party candidate while just 14 percent are more likely to support one. (Among people with postgraduate degrees even more, 48 percent, are more apt to oppose a Tea Party-affiliated candidate.)

HEAR/LEARN – Among all Americans, 34 percent say the more they hear about the Tea Party the more they like it, but 43 percent instead say the more they hear the less they like it.

Its own supporters overwhelmingly like it more, opponents less – but another challenge to the party is the large group in the middle, 44 percent of Americans, who are neutral toward the movement. Among people in this group 45 percent say the more they hear about the Tea Party the less they like it, vs. 22 percent who like it more.

Overall, 46 percent of all Americans are interested in learning more about the movement, while 54 percent are not. Again though there are differences under the surface: While eight in 10 Tea Party supporters are interested in learning more about it, this falls very sharply to 36 percent of those who are neutral toward it, as well as to 23 percent of its opponents. And, on an intensity scale, while 13 percent of Americans are "very" interested in learning more about the movement, nearly three times as many are not at all interested, 35 percent.

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