Who Are the Tea Partiers and What Do They Want?

They're more mainstream than you may have thought

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Once a political oddity, Tea Partiers have firmly entrenched themselves in the political discourse. So it's worth asking, who are the Tea Partiers and what do they believe? A New York Times-CBS News poll set out to answer these questions and more. "The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45," they write, also finding this group generally "wealthier and more educated." The Times has a neat interactive graphic. Here's what we've learned.

  • Not as Conservative as You Thought  Conservative blogger Allahpundit reads, "The number who say abortion should be either legal or legal with restrictions is 65 percent, while the number who prefer to keep gun laws as they are now instead of relaxing them further is 55 percent. Tea partiers do love Palin, but not even they want to see her as president." He calls this a "narrative-buster" that disproves media assumptions "that the tea party is going to derail the red wave in November."
  • Lacks Clear Leadership  The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz shakes his head. "What is the Tea Party's goal? 'Taking back our country' and handing it over to--whom? Would its followers be happy with any conservative administration? Are they going to run many of their own candidates? Is that realistic in a system dominated by two parties and big money?"
  • Not Looking for Third-Party Candidate  Liberal blogger Steve M. writes, "Tea partiers are less likely to want a third party than the general public. Well, so much for the 'pox on both your houses' myth about teabaggers. ... Get it through your heads, folks, if you haven't already: these folks are rather content with the Republican Party, as it is or as they expect it to be once they're done with it."
  • Their 10 'Bedrock' Principles  The Atlantic's Chris Good says the Tea Party document of its 10 priorities "will likely serve as a rallying point for conservative activists. It could also become a litmus test for politicians, in the mold of Americans for Tax Reform's tax pledge, as 2010 congressional candidates will be asked by tea partiers to sign onto the document." Number one is "protect the Constitution." You can read the rest here.
  • Hypocritical on Taxes?  The "Tea" in Tea Party stand for "Taxed Enough Already." But The Daily Beast's Jon Avlon writes, "While there is ample reason to be angry at unsustainable levels of government spending and fearful of future tax hikes, here’s an inconvenient truth: Americans are paying less in federal taxes this year." The New York Times reports:

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on "waste."

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits. Others could not explain the contradiction.

"That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?" asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. "I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security." She added, "I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind."

  • ...Especially Given Their Low Tax Rate  The NYT/CBS poll reports that 52% of Tea Partiers say their taxes are fair. Wonkette's Ken Layne loses it. He says the contradiction "kind of makes sense, considering the low rates they pay and the tax cuts they’ve seen this year. ... it makes sense, because POOR PEOPLE DON’T PAY TAXES AND IN FACT HALF THE COUNTRY’S WORKERS PAY NO INCOME TAX, but teabaggers are not about making sense."
  • Not Fuming at Wall Street  Liberal blogger Digby pokes a hole in the Democratic hopes to ride the Tea Party wave by raging against bankers. "Any illusions that these people are angry at Wall Street or big business needs to be dispensed with ASAP. They don't blame the money people at all."
  • Not Palin for President Backers  New York Magazine's Josh Duboff writes, "there is one thing Tea Party supporters and the country’s liberal contingent can agree upon: the majority of Tea Partiers said they do not believe Sarah Palin - who addressed Tea Party backers in Boston this morning - is qualified to be president." 
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.