Tea Partiers Not Fringe, Not Racist, Not Republican?

Just the guys next door, according to recent poll

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Two polls of Tea Partiers are the talk of Washington today. One is by the Winston Group, which was founded and led by Republican David Winston. This poll found that only 57% of Tea Partiers self-identified as Republican. The other is from Gallup, which shows that the "age, educational background, employment status, and race" of Tea Partiers is "quite representative of the public at large." Conservatives--and a few left-leaning publications--see the two polls as evidence that, in the L.A. Times' Andrew Malcolm's words, there's "nothing fringe" about Tea Partiers. (If true, this finding would show that Democratic narratives have been dead wrong.)

Yet more than a few commentators counter that these polls don't really show what they claim to show, and that the party identification is misleading; if anything, the numbers suggest the Tea Party is overwhelmingly made up of disaffected Republicans.

  • Myth of Tea Partiers as Racist, Reactionary Debunked!  That's conservative Ed Morrissey's take at Hot Air. "Gallup’s demos of the Tea Party look very close to that of the overall American demos on ethnicity ... The educational background of Tea Party followers almost exactly matches that of the general population ... Low-income earners (less than $30K) make up 19% of the Tea Party, as compared to 25% of the general population, and those making more than $50K are 55% of the Tea Party rather than the 50% of the general population, but that’s not much of a difference."
  • 'Bi-Partisan, Bi-Racial Movement,' declares conservative Glenn Reynolds. "Et Tu Gallup?" he asks, poking fun at liberals.
  • Be Afraid: There Are Democratic Tea Partiers  "The notion that Tea Party activists are almost entirely Republicans," writes The New Ledger's Pejman Yousefzadeh in response to the numbers, "is just not true." Democrats should worry about this, he says.
  • Not So Fast, says Below the Beltway's Doug Mataconis. "It's worth noting that party self-identification isn’t always an entirely reliable measure of where a person’s political beliefs actually lie." James Joyner is also skeptical: although he agrees the poll shows Tea Partiers to be "much more like the country as a whole than many of us might have imagined," he says he's "not sure [he'd] go so far as Ed Morrissey in arguing that these results belie the description of Tea Party followers as 'racist, reactionary, [or] Birthers.'  There’s nothing in these surveys that directly addresses any of those charges."
  • Actually, the Numbers Mean Something Else Entirely  "Pay attention to terminology," cautions The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: "it's true that just half of those Tea Partiers surveyed called themselves Republicans. Yes, the lion's share of the other half say they're independent. But they're not: they're Republican-oriented conservative voters who are dismayed by the direction of the GOP and who don't want to identify with the party's brand." That's very different than a truly bi-partisan movement. Ambinder would like to see a poll of Tea Partiers' vote histories and views on "immigration and race," Obama and socialism, etc.
  • 'These Folks Are Essentially Disaffected Republicans'  MSNBC's First Read team looks at the Gallup poll and says it pretty much jives with "GOP pollster Dave Winston's" numbers: "In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 49% of Tea Party supporters identify themselves as Republicans, while 43% say they are independents. But a whopping 70% of them say they are conservatives, while just 22% say they are moderate and only 7% say they are liberal."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.