For the newly elected Tea Party backed Republicans and their supporters, the easy part is over. Now that they have arrived on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country, the hard part is just beginning. At this early date, the news for the Tea Party movement has already become less than encouraging. A series of new polling reveals that the movement has sunk to a level of favorability on par with political parties that it came to Washington to either reform or replace. Recent results from a CBS/New York Times poll conducted between April 15 and the 20th reveals a movement that has sunk to a 26 percent favorability rating. These results are lower than those presented just last month by CNN and Washington Post polls, which found: “Forty-seven percent of people questioned say they have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party, up four points from December and an increase of 21 points from January 2010.” At that time, the percentage of people who saw the Tea Party in a favorable light had slumped to 32 percent, its lowest positive rating up until that time. These findings are consistent with those of the New York Times, which show that the Tea Party has been growing steadily less popular over the past year. Consistent with the aforementioned findings, the fall off in popularity for the Tea Party movement had likewise been documented by conservative sources like RealClear Politics.com and the UK Guardian starting in the summer of 2010.
Chris Cillizza, of the Washington Post suggests that the “familiarity breeds contempt” concept may be at work here as well: “It also could be that as the tea party has become better known and better defined some people who initially said they liked the movement even though they knew little about it have grown disenchanted as they have learned more.” Cillizza’s view is backed up by the latest Pew Research findings on the topic of the movement’s declining popularity. To wit: “As the Tea Party has evolved from a grassroots movement to become a major force on Capitol Hill, public views of the Tea Party have grown more negative. Slightly more disagree with the Tea Party than agree with the movement -- a reversal in public evaluations from a year ago.” The Pew findings show that the rise in the Tea Party’s unpopularity is largely a function of dissatisfaction among independent voters and Democrats either who may have initially been sympathetic to the movement’s goals or who had not previously held a strong opinion on the movement and its political program. Pollsters also attribute the decline to a drop off in support from those earning less than $50,000 a year, a threshold that represents roughly the mid point in American incomes.
A compendium of polling results presently available on PollingReport.com also reinforces the image of a Tea Party movement increasingly unpopular with the wider public. While one poll shows that 50 percent of those surveyed felt that the movement has had a positive effect on the country thus far, consistent majorities in the neighborhood of 60 percent plus continue to say that they are not supporters of the movement. Thus, it would appear that roughly half of the American public feels that the shake up provided to the system by the Tea Party has been of value; roughly, two thirds of these people still do not see that fact as motivation enough to lead them to identify positively with the movement. I myself undertook an analysis of twenty-nine different polling organizations, including the conservative Fox News Polls, Rasmussen Reports and the Marist Polls and nowhere did I find any polling results contrary to the evidence of a decline in popularity for the Tea Party movement as presented above.
While polls are but a snapshot in time, and as such are subject to divergent analysis, the overall trend in popularity for the Tea Party movement remains on a downward trajectory. I believe there is little in the way of likely future developments that will reverse this trend. My belief is that the fortunes of the Tea Party movement will continue to decline because of several factors, which the movement cannot address without a major restructuring of its core ideology. That restructuring would require elemental adjustments beyond its ideological foundation, which would redefine the movement to such an extent that it, would cease to be politically relevant. For one, the movement’s newly elected lawmakers will not be able to stick to their pledge of not raising taxes as part of deficit reduction measures unless they want to be on the losing side of the political outcome. Their divergent views with the general public vis a vis entitlement programs and the penchant for obstruction verses compromise are at variance with public opinion generally. Intra-party conflicts within the G.O.P. and problems related to the quality of the Tea Party’s leadership cadre further complicate the long-term viability of the movement in the larger competition for the allegiance of independent voters. The propensity towards anti-intellectual and anti-elitist rhetoric in an age of increasing globalization and technological complexity can only hamper the Tea Party movement in its development of political and economic programs. Lastly, the lingering allegations that the movement is tainted with racist and anti-immigrant sentiments is a major negative in a society where white voters will soon cease to be a majority. Each of the aforementioned deserves separate and focused analysis, which will appear in subsequent articles. Till then stay tuned and have a happy Easter and Passover holiday.
Steven J. Gulitti
CNN Poll: Unfavorable view of tea party on the rise
Washington Post-ABC News Poll (Item 36)
Tea Party: Better Known, Less Popular
More Negative Views Among Independents, Moderate Republicanshttp://pewresearch.org/pubs/1956/tea-party-declining-popularity-democrats-independents-moderate-republicans
Chris Cillizza: Tea party unpopularity on the rise
Tea Party movement dips in popularity http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/08/us-tea-party-loses-support
Is the Tea Party's Popularity Slipping?