The Tea Party vs. The Public

The so-called Tea Party movement has received a tsunami of publicity lately. But one indisputable fact about this movement has been undercovered in the media: The fact that this group is not by any stretch of the imagination a movement based in the center of the American electorate. It is instead a movement of the conservative right that is very much unrepresentative of the general public’s views.

Findings from a recent New York Times/CBS News poll make this point very clearly. The poll finds that the general public remains stalwart in its support for the Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to obtain a legal abortion: 58 percent say this decision was a good thing, compared to just 34 percent who say it was a bad thing. But among Tea Party supporters, sentiment is just the reverse: 53 percent say the decision was a bad idea and only 40 percent say it was a good idea.

The public also shows its progressive colors on the issue of whether the rich should be taxed to help provide health insurance coverage for those who don’t have it. In the same poll, 54 percent say this approach is a good idea, compared to 39 percent who think it’s a bad idea. Among Tea Party supporters, however, an amazing 80 percent term this a bad idea and a mere 17 percent say it’s a good idea.

Finally, a strong majority of the general public continues to view President Barack Obama in favorable terms. In the same poll, 58 percent say he understands the needs and problems of “people like yourself” compared to 39 percent who say he doesn’t. But Tea Party supporters diverge radically from this sympathetic assessment, with 73 percent saying he doesn’t understand their needs and problems and just 24 percent saying he does.

Tea Party supporters, in short, are representative of the conservative right and should in no way be confused with the center of American politics, which remains progressive on many key issues.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.