Interesting in light of all the third-party chatter from both sides lately, but even more interesting than the topline number is the trend over time. Contrary to what you might suspect, views of the tea party as separate from the GOP aren’t increasing among Republicans. They’re decreasing. That is to say, despite all the warring between RINOs and true conservatives over the past three weeks, more people in the party now see TPers as Republicans than they did two years ago.

More Republicans view the Tea Party as a separate movement from the GOP (51%) than as part of the Republican Party (32%). Opinion is nearly identical among independents (51% separate, 36% part of GOP). By contrast, Democrats are about as likely to say the Tea Party is part of the Republican Party as to say it is separate (48%-41%)…

Since April 2011, Tea Party Republicans have become more likely to see the Tea Party movement as part of the GOP. In 2011, Republicans who agreed with the Tea Party said the movement was separate from the GOP by a 67%-29% margin (38-point gap); today, that margin has narrowed to 52%-41% (11-point gap).

That surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Tea partiers have, for wise strategic reasons, spent three years working inside the GOP to change it rather than splitting off and trying to pressure it from the outside. It’s only logical that more people, including members of the movement itself, would begin to see them as a branch of the party rather than as an offshoot under those circumstances. Then again, the fact that we’re three years out from the full emergence of the movement and a majority of Republicans still see it as something separate makes me think maybe there’s something to the third-party murmuring after all. Is it sustainable long-term to have a party heavily influenced by a group that neither the party’s members nor the group itself regards as fully part of it? If not, how does that logic apply to, say, the Democratic Party and public-employee unions?

Anyway, if Republicans increasingly see the movement as part of the party, maybe the whole RINO/tea party divide is overblown. Then again, maybe not:

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Views of the tea party have turned more unfavorable at every point along the ideological spectrum (including conservative Republicans) but especially among moderate and liberal Republicans, who went from a net positive view of the movement four months ago at 46/35 to net negative now at 27/42(!). That feels like a serious rift, even if it’s not permanent; and the reason for it, I suspect, has less to do with wanting to torpedo ObamaCare than with the brinksmanship of the tactics. Look at the first graph on Pew’s page, gauging tea-party favorability among the general population, and you’ll see that the movement was net positive until the debt-ceiling brinksmanship of 2011, when it turned negative. It hasn’t recovered yet and is actually a few points worse than it used to be right now. The silver lining in the House GOP’s cave yesterday is that, if it does mean that congressional Republicans are less likely to use shutdowns or the debt limit as leverage in the near future, that might actually work to TPers’ advantage in rehabbing their brand among voters generally.

Another interesting tidbit: For all the venom spat at Boehner for selling out, he’s more popular with tea partiers than with RINOs. Seriously!

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That data was collected from October 9-13, before the final cave, so maybe the numbers have shifted a bit now. Then again, maybe not; he was, after all, also more popular with tea partiers in June than he was with non-TP Republicans. That’s why House conservatives aren’t rushing to replace him. While grassroots righties may disdain Boehner for not winning real concessions whenever he tries a new round of brinksmanship, centrist Republicans hate him for engaging in that brinksmanship at tea partiers’ behest in the first place. It’s a bizarre position to be in, seen as one of the high priests of the RINO Beltway establishment by the base and as a pawn of conservative populism by moderates. Remind me again why he wants to keep his job.

One more to chew on. I’m going to guess this is an outlier based on a small sample size, but maybe that’s more a wish than a reasoned thought:

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Only nine percent of tea partiers are under the age of 30? I know that demographic leans left and that the tea party skews older, but that can’t be right. Can it?

Exit question: Pew polled tea partiers and centrist Republicans on various key issues and found a striking split on entitlements. When asked whether it’s more important to reduce the national debt or keep Social Security and Medicare benefits at their current levels, tea partiers prefer the former, 73/15, while centrists prefer the latter, 44/46. Is that gulf bridgeable? That issue, already momentous, will only become more important over time.