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Long ago, the Tea Party was somewhat mysterious to the American public. In a quaint statistic, a full 26 percent of Americans in January 2010 responded to a CNN poll saying that they had "never heard of" the movement. Times have changed.

CNN's opinion research outfit has just released a new poll indicating that not only has everyone heard about the Tea Party (all but 7 percent responded that they had), but the movement has garnered its highest ever unfavorable ratings by the American public. In a March 11-13 sampling, 47 percent of respondents expressed that they didn't care much for what they've heard about Tea Partiers, compared with unfavorable ratings ranging from 26 percent to 43 percent the previous year.

Interestingly, as The New York Times' Nate Silver explains, the Americans who are now fed up with the Tea Party aren't disillusioned former supporters. It's those who have always had "ambivalent views" about the movement who have now soured on the Tea Party. In other words, the political middle has been slowly but steadily turning away from the movement even while core supporters (Silver positions them in the "low 30" percent range) haven't abandoned ship.

So while the poll can be read as the movement is "running out of steam," as Politico concluded, it appears that the Tea Party isn't losing political support as much as gaining more opponents who never were on board in the first place. That would be the optimistic reading, at least.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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