NYT Poll: Tea Partiers less popular than Muslims, atheists

posted at 1:25 pm on August 18, 2011 by Tina Korbe

The New York Times never seems to miss a chance to tout the unpopularity of the Tea Party. Anytime I see a headline to the effect that the Tea Party’s influence and image are diminishing, the source is almost guaranteed to be that national paper of record. And yet and yet — the latest iteration of articled antipathy toward the Tea Party in the NYT made for far more compelling reading than the pieces I routinely dismiss.

The poll in question in the article yesterday was actually a survey begun in 2006 — before the Tea Party even existed. The researchers — David E. Campbell, a political science professor at Notre Dame, and Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard — interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as to their political attitudes — and tracked them to today. Their findings dispel some commonly held perceptions of Tea Partiers. Among them:

  • The Tea Party is hardly a bipartisan or nonpartisan movement. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today. Michele Bachmann might like to hype “Tea Party Democrats,” but Campbell and Putnam suggest the bulk of Tea Partiers today were originally strong R’s. (Of course, that’s not entirely surprising: Tea Partiers stand for smaller government and the GOP has always been the party of “slightly less large government.” Establishment Republicans in the federal government have contributed to the astronomical growth of government — but they are also usually responsible for any efforts at restraint, as well.)
  • Few Tea Partiers were nonpolitical neophytes when they encountered the movement, as is popularly projected: Many had contacted their congressmen even before they became affiliated with the Tea Party. That suggests Tea Partiers had incipient tendencies toward activism before they coalesced into an important force.
  • But, most importantly, while Tea Party spokespeople often emphasize the fiscal emphasis of the movement, fiscal issues are by no means the only Tea Party priority. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics.

Campbell and Putnam speculate this last reason contributes mightily to the Tea Party’s popularity — which they found to be lower than the popularity of Muslims and atheists. “It is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose,” they write. “While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics.”

And if, in fact, Tea Partiers misunderstand freedom of religion, if they seek to form a Christian state rather than to renew the culture or simply to ensure the state does not interfere with the church, then perhaps their unpopularity is warranted. But by and large, of course, that’s not the case.

It’s hard not to think some part of the Tea Party’s poor public image comes less from anything inherently true about Tea Partiers themselves and more from misunderstandings about Tea Party aims and methods. It also surely doesn’t help that Democrats routinely refer to Tea Partiers with terms like “terrorists” and “tyrants.”


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Bullsh*t. The NY Times is a vicious, truthless institution and nothing they “report” should be trusted, certainly nothing purporting to assess its ideological adversary.

I’ve been to a dozen tea party gatherings (some quite large) and can’t remember any overtly or single-mindedly religious or socially conservative strains or themes. EVERYTHING I heard and saw was about restoring America’s fiscal health and the vitality of the American dream for individuals to live free lives to the fullest extent possible.

rrpjr on August 18, 2011 at 5:17 PM

This doesn’t surprise me at all, with the MSM and Democrats lying frantically and incessantly about the Tea Party.

Most people just absorb whatever poison that is swirling around their heads. I don’t blame them, because paying attention to politics is a real downer. My husband HATES the amount of time I spend reading about this crap.

However, we can no longer afford to shrug it off with “they’re all the same.” America is at the precipice, like never before in history.

disa on August 18, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Please click through ALL of the links provided. There was NO current survey. There was some survey done in 2006 that they morphed into meaning *unfavorable* to the Tea Party. Don’t buy in to the NYT’s propaganda bullsh!t.
O/T How in the world is HotAir not reporting on this backdoor amnesty: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/aug/18/new-dhs-rules-cancel-deportations/

sybilll on August 18, 2011 at 6:45 PM

I’ve been to a dozen tea party gatherings (some quite large) and can’t remember any overtly or single-mindedly religious or socially conservative strains or themes. EVERYTHING I heard and saw was about restoring America’s fiscal health and the vitality of the American dream for individuals to live free lives to the fullest extent possible.

rrpjr on August 18, 2011 at 5:17 PM

My observations as well.

Now, the NYT probably considers having an invocation to be overtly religious…

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 18, 2011 at 7:32 PM

@Rational Thought: A very sincere thank you for your refreshing reminder to stay sharp!

@michaelo: Wow, you’re really right to call that out. I wrongly assumed they tracked all participants from start to finish, but that sentence does make it seem like they didn’t circle back to all of the original participants.

My hope in highlighting this was to call attention to information that might be helpful to ensure the Tea Party stays relevant. Probably that means Tea Partiers just need to keep doing what they’re doing. After all, it worked pretty well in 2010! =) But it’s possible the Tea Party is already becoming something other than what it started out as … I just want Tea Partiers to stay true to the original focused vision of limited government!

Tina Korbe on August 18, 2011 at 7:41 PM

All the news that’s fit to make up. Yawn.

Huckabye-Romney on August 18, 2011 at 8:06 PM

My 90 year old mother will be appalled to learn this.

Kissmygrits on August 18, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Yea, once again, the media claims that November 2010 election was just a mirage or somethin’

dthorny on August 18, 2011 at 11:49 PM

No suprise. Between the status quo republicans, the left and the indies not paying attention and the TEA Party won’t be well thought of…

And, it’s TEA Party — as in Taxed Enough Already — not Tea Party…

Gohawgs on August 19, 2011 at 4:20 AM

The shame of the 2010 election is that it may give the Dems someone to blame for the economy. However, I agree with Ann Coulter, let them raise taxes, spend spend spend then explain why the country is still a mess. But the creative minds of the NYT will think of ever new reasons…

IlikedAUH2O on August 19, 2011 at 9:48 AM

The Tea Party is hardly a bipartisan or nonpartisan movement. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

Beyond stupid. People about as much as quit a party, therefore they are representative of that party?

This is very likely an equivocation on the word “partisan”:

an adherent or supporter of a person, group, party, or cause, especially a person who shows a biased, emotional allegiance.

By that definition the Tea Party is partisan–but not partisan to the party that it feels has abandoned that cause for better–or less confrontational–face time with the media.

The idea was to lose some ideological baggage of the Republican party and thus to appeal to more independents who could see the rocks ahead.

The next point is that people of the Tea Party had principles and an interest in government. Gee, Athena wasn’t born out of the forehead of Zeus!

And the last bullet point is equally as stupid as the other two–but even stupider with the way that Putnam has used it. Okay, fiscal conservatism isn’t the only cause these people have in their lives so that somehow makes the Tea Party less about fiscal conservatism and more about those other interest not shared to the same degree.

Elsewhere, as indicated at Newsbusters, Putnam tries to use the correlation between “religiously concerned” in 2006 and Tea Party member, you know after the Tea Party was born as an indication of intensity , thus because it is more widespread that other correlation, the members “cared less” about fiscal conservatism than they did about “social issues”. Making distribution into intensity of opinion. And thus kinda negating the “Philosophy” part of PhD.

That we have social conservatives make up the bulk of people really concerned about fiscal conservatism is consistent with my view that when “fiscal conservatism” comes up against “social liberalism”, the fiscal part looses out almost every time. Just ask long-described “fiscal conservatives” Olympia “History Knocking” Snowe or Arnold Schwarzenegger. I hear that phrase “fiscal conservative”, I just never see it in action. So it doesn’t surprise me that principled social conservatives can be principled fiscal conservatives. Not in the least.

These figures of Putnam and Campbell may be relatively accurate, but it doesn’t figure change into anything. And they bungle everything other than the numbers.

Axeman on August 19, 2011 at 3:11 PM

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