Tea-party backers fashion themselves as “we the people,” but polls show the Republican Party’s most-conservative and energized voters are hardly your average crowd.
According to an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, 84 percent who call themselves tea- party supporters don’t like how President Barack Obama is handling his job — a view shared by just 35 percent of all other adults. Tea-partiers are about four times likelier than others to back repealing Obama’s health-care overhaul and twice as likely to favor renewing tax cuts for the highest- earning Americans.
Exit polls of voters in this month’s congressional elections reveal similar gulfs. Most tea-party supporters — 86 percent — want less government intrusion on people and businesses, but only 35 percent of other voters said so. Tea-party backers were about five times likelier to blame Obama for the country’s economic ills, three times likelier to say Obama’s policies will be harmful and twice as apt to see the country on the wrong track.
These aren’t subtle shadings between tea-party backers and the majority of Americans, who don’t support the movement; they’re Grand Canyon-size chasms.
With Republicans running the House next year, the findings highlight the delicate dance facing leaders who will have to address tea-party concerns without alienating moderate voters who will be crucial in 2012, when the GOP hopes to win the White House and boost its strength on Capitol Hill.
One certainty: There are too many tea-party supporters for politicians to ignore, especially for Republicans. About 3 in 10 adults in the AP-GfK Poll call themselves tea-party backers, including 60 percent of Republicans. In the exit poll in this month’s election, which saw high conservative turnout, 4 in 10 voiced tea-party support, and 2 of every 3 GOP votes came from them.
Those are impressive numbers, though leaders of the loosely organized movement sometimes seem to imply that their views enjoy an even broader consensus. Tea party supporters emblazon “We the People,” the opening of the preamble to the Constitution, on banners at demonstrations and on merchandise their groups sell.
GOP pollster Steve Lombardo says it will be a challenge for Republican leaders to find policies that will deliver “a two-fer for independents and more-extreme elements” of the party. He and other Republicans say the answer is to focus on areas of broad agreement such as curbing federal spending, taxes and deficits.