I’ve long been on the record as saying that there are many factions within the tea parties, some far more credible than others. Those of a genuine libertarian bent, those who were as opposed to Bush-era spending as they are now, have some credibility on the subject of government spending. And I think that was a significant part of the core group that began the tea parties a year ago.
But what has clearly happened since then is that core group has become overwhelmed in numbers as partisan conservatives have jumped on the bandwagon in droves, seeing it as a vehicle to express their disagreement with Obama, and as the Republican establishment has sought to coopt the tea party ethos to their own partisan cause. Bruce Bartlett highlights a recent poll that confirms that reality.
One of the problems with analyzing the so-called tea party movement (TPM) is separating the views of its hard-core members, who go to demonstrations and are the voice of the movement, from those that may sympathize in a general sort of way and may identify themselves as TPM supporters to public opinion pollsters. Lumping the two groups together in polls does two things: it tends to overstate the political influence of the TPM and understate the extremism of its most fanatic members.
A new University of Washington poll sheds light on these observations by separating TPM agnostics, who may somewhat approve or disapprove of the TPM, from those that strongly approve of it. Released on Tuesday, it sampled 1,695 Washington State voters–a large sample–and asked them to define themselves as strong TPM supporters (19% of the sample), those that somewhat approve or disapprove of it (26% of the sample), and those that strongly disapprove (27% of the sample; not included below).
What I think this poll shows is that taxes and spending are not by any means the only issues that define TPM members; they are largely united in being unsympathetic to African Americans, militant in their hostility toward illegal immigrants, and very conservative socially. At a minimum, these data throw cold water on the view that the TPM is essentially libertarian. Based on these data, I would say that TPM members have much more in common with social conservatives that welcome government intervention as long as it’s in support of their agenda.
He presents the following chart of the results of that poll, which show that a sizable majority of the hard core tea party supporters are way to the right of the general population and nowhere close to libertarian positions on those issues.