New Demographic Survey Finds Tea Party Movement Is Essentially the GOP's Voter Base: Affluent, Overwhelmingly White, Predominantly Male, Mostly Middle-Aged and Older, Fiercely Conservative -- and, At Only 18 Percent of the Electorate, More Likely to Wreak Havoc in the Spring Republican Primaries Than in the November General Election
(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 20, 2010)
By SKEETER SANDERS
Who's afraid of the big, bad Tea Party movement?
If you guessed the Democrats, you'd be dead wrong. On the contrary, it's the Republicans who need to be worried.
A new demographic survey of the Tea Party movement released last week by The New York Times and CBS News confirms what many observers of Tea Party rallies have said anecdotally about the movement: That it does not represent a broad cross-section of the American electorate, let alone a majority.
To the contrary, the movement more closely resembles the electoral base of today's Republican Party: Overwhelmingly white (89 percent), predominantly male (59 percent), mostly middle-aged and older (75 percent) and fiercely conservative (73 percent).
And while a separate poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press released Monday shows that 80 percent of Americans overall are highly critical of government, a clear partisan divide exists over whether the public considers the government to be a threat to them.
More Republicans (30 percent) than Democrats (nine percent) and independents (25 percent) are angry with government, the Pew survey found, with 43 percent of Republicans, 18 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents believe the government is a threat to them.
Significantly, the Pew study found, independents who lean Republican are far more hostile toward government (37 percent angry, 50 percent feeling threatened) than independents who lean Democratic (15 percent angry, 21 percent feeling threatened).
Tea Party supporters are by far the most angry and hostile toward government,
with 43 percent of Tea Party supporters angry and a stunning 57 percent of them feeling threatened.
REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS FARING WORSE THAN DEMOCRATS -- BUT NOT BY MUCH
Chief reasons for the ill feelings are economic fears wrought by the recession and high unemployment and frustration with the partisan gridlock in Washington -- the latter of which has resulted in record-high negative ratings for Congress.
Only 40 percent of Democrats have faith in their elected representatives in Congress, the lowest positive rating by the majority party in the history of the Pew survey. But the GOP fares worse, with only 37 percent of Republicans expressing faith in their congressional representatives.
This is bad news for the GOP, for it means that the Tea Party movement, rather than pose a threat to Democrats in next fall's midterm elections, is more likely to wreak havoc in the upcoming Republican primaries this spring -- most of which are closed to independent voters.
The likely result is a Republican Party going into the November election saddled with hard-line right-wing nominees sure, particularly in Senate races, to turn off moderate voters -- whose support is absolutely vital in order for the minority party to win back control of Congress.
Already, two GOP stalwarts -- Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Arizona Senator John McCain -- are in serious danger of suffering humiliating primary defeats at the hands of Tea Party-backed insurgents.
Crist has fallen behind conservative Florida House speaker Marco Rubio in the GOP primary and is reported to be seriously considering running as an independent in November. McCain -- the 2008 GOP presidential nominee -- is fighting for his political life against right-wing radio talk-show host J.D. Hayworth, with a new Rasmussen Poll showing McCain leading Hayworth by only five points, 47-42 percent, down from a 48-41 percent lead in March.
SCORES OF TEA PARTIERS MOUNTING STIFF PRIMARY CHALLENGES TO GOP REGULARS
Crist and McCain are far from alone. Scores of other GOP incumbents and party establishment-backed Republican candidates in open races are also confronting right-wing Tea Party-backed primary challengers.
In Kentucky, Tea Party-backed candidate Rand Paul, the 47-year-old son of Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas), is favored to win the state's May 18 GOP Senate primary against GOP establishment candidate Trey Grayson, the Kentucky secretary of state. "There's a Tea Party tidal wave coming, and when it comes, it's going to sweep a lot of people out," Grayson told the McClatchy Newspapers.
In the Democratic primary, state Attorney General Jack Conway is battling Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo. Recent polls show Conway and Mongiardo running neck and neck, while Paul holds a commanding 15-point lead over Grayson.
State Republican leaders fear that a primary victory by Paul -- who's considerably to the right of Grayson -- could lead to a loss of the Senate seat now held by the retiring Jim Bunning to the Democratic nominee in the fall election. Bunning has endorsed Paul. Grayson was endorsed by former Vice President Dick Cheney as "the real conservative" in the race.
Even Fox News -- now embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal involving talk-show host Sean Hannity's open promotion of a Tea Party event he planned to participate in, only pull out at the last minute on the orders of Fox News executives -- has, ironically, taken note of the growing Tea Party threat to the Republicans.
Appearing on Glenn Beck's program in March, former Bush political guru Karl Rove said that "The Republican Party, like any party that doesn't control the White House, will not have a single voice or a single leader until the 2012 presidential election, and frankly, I don't want one person [in that position] now."
Beck expressed his fear that the Tea Party movement could ultimately coalesce into a third major political party in its own right -- at the GOP's expense. Noting that independents now outnumber both Democrats and Republicans, "I think that having a third party -- it could be a nightmare [for the Republicans]," he said. "There are so many conservatives who are saying 'Please, Republicans, get your stuff together!'"
SURVEY FINDS NEAR-TOTAL LACK OF DIVERSITY IN TEA PARTY MOVEMENT
Only one percent of Tea Party members are African-American, Times/CBS News survey found -- a figure much lower than the four percent of blacks who identify as Republicans. Ditto for Asian-Americans. The survey did not specifically identify Latinos in the movement, instead listing six percent of Tea Party members as "other."
Given the incendiary anti-Latino and anti-immigrant rhetoric by former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) at the recent Tea Party convention in Nashville (Not to mention a fiercely personal attack by Tancredo on President Obama at a Tea Party rally in South Carolina that's been roundly condemned as racist) -- as well as extremely inflammatory rhetoric and signs at other Tea Party protests in recent months -- it's easy to see why blacks and Latinos are, for the most part, shunning the movement like the plague.
More than a third of Tea Party members hail from the Deep South -- where support for the GOP and opposition to Obama is strongest. Not surprisingly, Tea Partiers are far more hostile toward the president than the electorate as a whole. Only seven percent of Tea Party supporters approve of the president's job performance (compared to 50 percent of voters overall), while a whopping 88 percent of Tea Partiers disapprove (compared to 40 percent of voters overall).
SURVEY REVEALS SHARP CLASS DIVIDE BETWEEN TEA PARTIERS, VOTERS IN GENERAL
Significantly, the survey found that Tea Party members are more affluent economically than the nation as a whole, with more than half earning more than $50,000 a year and a fifth earning more than $100,000 a year. Twelve percent of Tea Party supporters earn more than $250,000 a year -- precisely the income brackets whose taxes are going up, while everyone earning less than that are seeing their taxes go down.
In sharp contrast, the survey found, voters in general were considerably less affluent than Tea Party supporters. While 35 percent of Tea Partiers earned less than $50,000 a year, nearly half of voters in general (48 percent) fall into that category. Only 25 percent of voters in general earn more than $100,000 a year compared to the 32 percent of Tea Partiers in that category.
The Times/CBS News survey found several telltale signs of class bias: While 54 percent of voters in general said that raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year was a good idea, a whopping 80 percent of Tea Party supporters said it was a bad idea.
And while voters in general were evenly divided on whether the Obama administration favors the poor or treats all classes equally (27 percent each), Tea Party supporters were quite adamant (56 percent) in their belief that the administration favored the poor. Only nine percent of Tea Party supporters felt the administration was treating all classes equally.
OTHER SHARP DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TEA PARTIERS, GENERAL ELECTORATE
The figures stand in sharp contrast to voters in general in the Times/CBS News poll, 77 percent of whom identify as white, 12 percent black, three percent Asian and seven percent "other" (presumably Latino).
Fifty-one percent of voters in general are women, while 49 percent are men. In terms of age, the general electorate is evenly split, 50-50, between those under 45 and those over 45.
While 73 percent of Tea Party supporters identify as conservative, only 34 percent of voters in general do. Thirty-eight percent of voters in general identify themselves as moderate (compared to only 20 percent of Tea Party supporters) and 20 percent of voters in general identify as liberal (compared to only four percent of Tea Party supporters).
At Tea Party rallies across the country, activists have boldly asserted that their movement represents "the majority of the American people." But the Times/CBS News survey shows that only 18 percent of Americans identify with the Tea Party movement.
And with Tea Party supporters coming largely from the ranks of Republicans -- who themselves constitute only 23 percent of the electorate -- it's difficult to see how this movement can pose a threat to the Democrats in November, especially if, for the rest of this year, the economy picks up and joblessness goes down.
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Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.