First the Beltway GOP unites against Ted Cruz, now this. Everything’s coming up RINO!

Seriously, though, Legal Insurrection makes a good point. It’s not only support that’s dipped. Opposition has dipped too, by the same amount that support has since last year and both figures are within the poll’s margin of error. What’s more, feelings about the TP have always operated within a relatively narrow band. Even after it first gelled in 2010 and got lots of media attention, support topped out at 32 percent; then, a year later, it bottomed out at 21 percent before rebounding somewhat. The band for opposition is even narrower, with a high of 29 percent and a low of 21 percent. Gallup’s headline screams “near-record low,” but what we’re really talking about here is roughly 25 percent support and opposition that bounces around within five percent or so depending upon whatever’s been happening in politics lately.

I’ve seen lots of people noting the trend among Republicans in this data set, which is fair enough, but note that opposition among the wider public has declined too. Former supporters aren’t joining opponents, they’re sliding into the “neither/no opinion” column.

tp

What the new poll really shows, I think, is simply the lower visibility the tea-party brand has had over time. The media buzzed about it as a new political force three years ago, and as time has gone on and the movement’s racked up some wins and some losses, they’ve used that angle less and less. Gallup’s own interest in this subject suggests that, in fact; if you click the link up top and look at the graph, you’ll see that they polled tea-party affiliation five times in 2010 and seven times in 2011, but just twice in 2012 and just once so far this year. Go figure that the less voters are being asked which side they’re taking on the Great Tea-Party Question, the less some of them have any opinion on the subject.

As for the Republican trend, note that that earlier poll was conducted on November 4-7, 2010 — just a few days after the gigantic GOP midterm wave that swept them back into power in the House. “Tea-party power” had been a major storyline that summer and fall, and it had just paid off electorally in spades. Of course Republicans were going to be sky high on the TP at that moment. Over time, as the movement produced some winners in Ted Cruz and some losers in Christine O’Donnell, feelings grew more ambivalent. Virtually the entire decline in Republican support has landed in the “neither” column, not in opposition, which is what you’d expect as that ambivalence sets in.

Two questions in light of the poll, then. One: Will the Cruzapalooza on defunding ObamaCare move these numbers up or down? The more prominent he becomes, I assume the more the media’s interest in the tea-party’s fortunes will return to old levels. And two: Did previous TP-driven showdowns over the debt ceiling do any damage to the party? I notice that the decline in support for the movement in Gallup’s 2011 polling coincided with that summer’s debt-ceiling brinksmanship. Although, interestingly, so did the decline in opposition: Both metrics bottomed out at 21 percent in late 2011, which is not what you’d expect if the public was reacting strongly to the tea party one way or another.