One if by Land, Two if by Tea

Sep 15, 2010 10:19am

Democratic strategists may celebrate yesterday’s Tea Party victory in Delaware, rightly figuring it gives their guy a better chance. But it also puts an exclamation point on the remarkable energy of Tea Party supporters this year – and on that score, the Democrats still have plenty to fear.

The movement remains controversial; in our latest ABC/Post poll more Americans expressed an unfavorable than a favorable view of it, by 45 percent to 38 percent. But hold on: Among likely voters that tipped, slightly but tellingly, to 40 percent unfavorable, 44 percent favorable.

The reason? Motivation. Tea Party supporters are more apt to say they’ve signed up to vote; registration peaks at 93 percent among those who have a “strongly” favorable opinion of the movement. They’re likewise more likely to say they’ll show up: Among strong Tea Party admirers who’re registered, 90 percent also say they’re certain to vote in November. That slides to 62 percent of those who favor the party more tepidly, and a similar number of those who see it unfavorably.

Midterm elections are comparatively low-turnout affairs; in the right district, 17 buses can make you a Congress member. Look at 1994, when the celebrated “religious right” movement helped drive the Republican Party to control. As I noted at the time, churches have buses.

This year it’s the Tea Party that’s mobile. Obviously that’s battered the old-line GOP; just ask soon-to-be-former Sens. Bennett and Murkowski, and party-favorites Mike Castle in Delaware and Rick Lazio in New York, among plenty of others. In our poll, Tea Party supporters are disproportionately Republicans – yet perfectly happy to bite their own party in the leg.

Consider: Among likely voters who have a “strongly” favorable opinion of the Tea Party, 48 percent identify themselves as Republicans – twice the GOP share of the general population. But in this same group, 59 percent also say most Republicans do not deserve re-election to Congress.

There’s been plenty of fallout this primary season as a result. But now (well, Saturday in Hawaii) the primaries are over – and the focus turns to the general election. Among strong admirers of the Tea Party who are likely voters, nearly all, 92 percent, say most Democrats in Congress don’t deserve re-election. Ninety-six percent disapprove of President Obama’s job performance, 91 percent strongly. And 56 percent are “angry” at the way the federal government is operating, more than double the level of anger in the country’s population at large. Our "Frustration Index," 72 overall on a scale of 0 to 100, is 91 among likely voters who have a strongly favorable opinion of the Tea Party.

We’ve previously explored some of the whys and wherefores of Tea Party sentiment. The point now, and looking ahead to November, is that this is a group – whatever its broader ratings in the population at large – with enough motivated supporters to make its impact felt, especially in an otherwise low-turnout affair.

If the Democrats can rally their side – and the Tea Party’s a good foil for that purpose – they may yet mitigate the damage. But from the Tea Party’s perspective, with old-line Republicans now having felt the lash, it’s the Democrats’ turn. And if not buses, this group’s got the horses.

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