Through most of 2011, the public split about evenly between supporters and opponents of the tea party movement, but the latest poll shows a 10-point edge for tea party opponents. Polls have estimated tea party support to be between 12 to 48 percent in the past year, much depending on the wording of questions. The wide-ranging estimates also may reflect a movement with a small but tight-knit core of supporters along with a larger and more diverse group of general sympathizers.
The intensity of tea party support matters. In the new Post-ABC poll, Mitt Romney runs about even with Newt Gingrich among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who strongly support the tea party, but Romney holds a 17-point lead over other contenders among Republicans who are only “somewhat” supportive.
Among Americans more broadly, 13 percent are strong tea party supporters and 28 percent back the movement “somewhat.” Over half of strong tea party backers are Republicans, compared with fewer than four in 10 casual supporters. And while more than eight in 10 strong tea party supporters say their political views are “conservative,” about half as many weak tea party supporters say the same.