Support for and opposition to the Tea Party are roughly equivalent, but, by a 23-point margin, the more Americans hear of the Tea Party, the less they like it, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
About 41 percent of Americans say they support the Tea Party, whereas about 45 percent say they oppose it. More troublingly, the poll found that strong opponents of the Tea Party outnumber strong supporters by two to one. Sixty percent say they aren’t interested to learn more about the Tea Party, compared with 39 percent who say they’d like to know more about the limited-government group. A full 50 percent of Americans say they like the Tea Party less the more they learn, while just 27 percent like it more. My age group accounts for a lot of the Tea Party’s popularity decline: Whereas 51 percent of us liked the Tea Partiers last September, just 21 percent of us say we’re fans today.
An ABC analysis suggests that the Tea Party suffers from the same problem that plagued Rick Santorum: It appeals to too narrow an ideological base. The same analysis also hints that the Tea Party, as primarily an economic protest movement, hasn’t been able to weather whatever improvements in the economy we’ve seen recently.
But I posit a different theory. The Tea Party really hasn’t been in the news much lately — and, usually, when the movement is mentioned, it’s by opponents who cite Tea Partiers in Congress as obstructionists. It surprises me that, according to the same pollsters, support for the Tea Party was at an all-time high last September, shortly after the president blamed the Tea Party for the lack of a grand bargain on the debt ceiling. That still supports my theory, though: At that time, Tea Partiers were very much in the news, either as the objects of Democrats’ criticisms or as themselves, pushing back ardently against the narrative that they were somehow to blame for Congress’ inaction on the debt and deficit. Since then, Congress hasn’t had a major showdown of any kind. Perhaps the kerfuffle over the payroll tax cut extension and Keystone XL earlier this year qualifies — but it wasn’t nearly as dramatic nor nearly as widely covered as the debt ceiling debate. The Tea Party as the Tea Party hasn’t been particularly visible lately, even though the actions and words of certain individuals associated with the Tea Party still redound to the Tea Party’s credit or discredit. A poll that queries participants on their views of the appropriate size and scope of government would give a better indication of Americans’ appetite for what the Tea Party had to sell — and still does.