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

FROM THE GOP – The Democratic Party substantially leads both the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement in the sense among Americans that it best represents their values, is most concerned with their problems and best understands the economic difficulties people are experiencing. In each of these, the Tea Party encroaches far more on the Republicans than on the Democrats, underscoring its GOP base – and the potential risk to Republican candidates who fall out of Tea Party favor.

For example, 86 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the Democratic Party best represents their values. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, though, just 56 percent say the Republican Party best represents their values – 29 percent instead pick the Tea Party. And fewer than half of leaned Republicans, 48 percent, say the GOP best understands their economic problems.

The breakdown by ideology also is telling. Nearly as many conservatives pick the Tea Party as the Republican Party as being most concerned with their needs, 31 percent vs. 37 percent, and as understanding the country's economic problems, 30 percent vs. 33 percent.

Another result also demonstrates how the Tea Party draws from Republican ranks. An ABC/Post poll in November 2009 tested the Democratic Party vs. the Republican Party on values and empathy. The Democratic Party's scores are almost exactly the same now as then; it's the GOP that's lost ground with the Tea Party added to the mix.

BASE – Underscoring the movement's political and ideological base, 68 percent of people who identify themselves as "very" conservative are Tea Party supporters, as are 67 percent of strong Republicans and 59 percent of those who strongly disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance. The movement is supported by more than half of John McCain's voters from 2008, and by about half of all Republicans, conservatives, people who are very worried about the economy and those who are angry at the way the federal government is working.

A look in profile tells the same story: Eighty-four percent of Tea Party supporters disapprove of Obama, 83 percent prefer smaller rather than larger government, 64 percent are conservatives, 56 percent are very worried about the economy and 43 percent are Republicans – each far higher than its proportion in the general population.

Other measures show little differences, with Tea Party supporters no more or less apt to be college graduates, to have incomes over $75,000 or to be either among the youngest or oldest age groups. ("Strong" supporters of the Tea Party, however, are somewhat more apt to be in upper-middle income categories, and to be age 50 or older.)

Profiles of the group, is should be noted, depend on estimates of its size, which have ranged from 18 percent to 31 percent in recent polls, depending on how support for the Tea Party is measured. Again, in this poll 27 percent of Americans express support for the movement, 17 percent strongly.

THE QUESTION OF RACE – Tea Party supporters broadly agree on motivations for backing the movement – economic concern (cited by 83 percent), distrust of government (79 percent) and opposition to President Obama and the Democrats (72 percent). Many fewer supporters, but still 39 percent, cite dissatisfaction with the Republican Party as a reason for favoring the Tea Party.

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