Who Are the Tea Partiers?
National Review conducted a poll (subscription required) to find out what we all know about the tea party movement. First of all, Americans think well of the movement. McLaughlin and Associates asked respondents whether the tea parties represented an angry fringe or consisted of “citizens concerned about the country’s economic future.” 57% chose the latter, and only 19% chose the former — that 19% covering, one supposes, Democrat operatives and the mainstream media.
Another interesting factor that should surprise no-one is that tea partiers are not the anti-government extremists that some suggest, but run-of-the-mill right-of-center citizens frustrated enough to finally become active in politics:
Most tea-party sympathizers, [in contrast to Ross Perot independents], are pro-life. They are more pro-life than the electorate as a whole, although less so than Republicans. Their religious practices are roughly in line with those of the electorate. Tea-party participants, meanwhile, are both more pro-life and more frequent churchgoers than the electorate. Social issues may not be what binds the tea partiers together or what matters most to them, but social issues are not going to drive a wedge between them and Republicans.
Tea-party supporters are concerned about the deficit, but not to the exclusion of other issues. They don’t want to cut the defense budget. A small, 52 percent majority of them believes we “should cut taxes to stimulate growth” while only 37 percent say that the deficit makes tax cuts unaffordable (and a tiny 7 percent want tax increases to reduce the deficit).
The tea partiers are often said to be populists hostile to Wall Street and big business. But while they clearly oppose bailouts of financial firms, their antipathy may not go much farther than that. McLaughlin asked likely voters whether they think that “we should impose a new tax on banks because they have benefited so much from bailouts and need to be reined in,” or that “bank customers would end up paying the tax and the economy would suffer.” The anti-taxers were a majority in the poll (52-38 percent), and both tea-party participants and tea-party sympathizers were even more strongly on the anti-tax side. In McLaughlin’s poll, a majority of likely voters want to cut taxes on corporations. Tea partiers were especially likely to agree.
One caution that the poll highlights is that third-party, tea-party candidates will tend to split the electorate and help the Democrats. As NR’s Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O’Beirne suggest, this means that Republicans should consider tea partiers to be ideologically determined and move in their direction, rather than hoping that they’ll choose the least worst option. Electoral evidence has already been mounting that they won’t; the GOP must do the courting, which is to say, return to its own integrity.