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Myth-busting polls: Tea Party members are average Americans, 41% are Democrats, independents

April 5, 2010 |  2:24 am

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For upwards of 12 months now members of the so-called Tea Party protest movement have been stereotyped, derogated and often dismissed by some politicians and media outlets.

They've been portrayed variously as angry fringe elements, often inarticulate, potentially violent and merely Republicans in sheep's clothing or disgruntled pockets of conservatives blindly lashing out at a left-handed President Obama and the same side of his Democratic Party finally getting its chance to drive home a liberal agenda after eight years of Republican rule and six under a centrist Bill Clinton.

Alas for stereotypes, they're convenient, often catchy. But not necessarily true.

Now, comes a pair of polls, including Gallup, that paint a revealing detailed portrait of Tea Party supporters in most ways as pretty average Americans. A Sunday poll -- actually three national phone surveys of 1,000 registered voters -- found that 17% of all polled, or more than 500, called themselves "part of the Tea Party movement."

"It's a good sample size," David Winston, polling director of the Winston Group that did the poll for an education advocacy group, told the Ballot Box blog of The Hill newspaper. 

The Tea Party adherents broke down 28% independent, 17% Democrat and only 57% Republican. Not coincidentally, this bipartisan breakdown has been the way that Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin has often described movement members as "commonsense Americans" worried and....

...angered by the over-reaching one-party control of Democrats in Washington these last 15 months, rooted initially in opposition to Obama's $787 billion government economic stimulus package.

A new Gallup Poll out this morning of 1,033 finds nothing fringe about self-proclaimed Tea Party adherents; they are slightly more likely to be employed, male and definitely more conservative. But otherwise Gallup's Lydia Saad writes, "their age, educational background, employment status, and race -- Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large."

While economic issues like stubbornly high unemployment rates and declining home values cause widespread worries, Winston found top issues among the self-identified Tea Party followers are jobs/the economy and the exploding federal deficit. A whopping 95% told pollsters that Washington "Democrats are taxing, spending and borrowing too much."

Fully 87% told Gallup they oppose Obama's healthcare legislation.

The Winston poll says 80% of total Tea Party supporters dislike Obama's job performance, a higher negative rate even than the 77% of Republicans who disapprove of the ex-state senator's White House work.

They are, of course, only two polls and a long time politically until November. Given a widespread anti-incumbent environment, some GOP members of Congress might also pay a price come Nov. 2.

While the inconvenient polls may make media generalizers uncomfortable, it could also discomfit both major parties just seven months out from those crucial midterm elections. Congressional Republicans fare awfully in Tea Party minds, too, despite rhetorical efforts to catch up with the movement at times.

And if a sizable chunk of Obama's own party base crumbles away, as it did in 2009 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and in the January special Senate election in Massachusetts over healthcare, Nancy Pelosi could soon join the ranks of ex-House speakers. A change of only 40 House seats would shift control to the GOP.

The counter-intuitive good news for Obama in all that is that a Republican House would give him a handy target for any blame in his anticipated 2012 re-election bid, something he wouldn't have if both houses remained under their currently large Democrat majorities that have earned such low approval ratings.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Hat Tip Noel Sheppard

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