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Boiling Tea

04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Co-authored by Zeljka Buturovic, PhD

The attitude toward the Tea

Party movement is an emerging division in the American electorate. Those

who support and those who oppose the Tea Party agenda are often as different

as conservatives and progressives. The Tea Party attitude is more predictive

of President Barack Obama's approval than are education, race, religious

and party affiliation. In addition, a very large portion of the likely

electorate sides with or against Tea Partiers, leaving few moderate

voices in between.

Tea Partiers are not a fringe

phenomenon. The political views of those who identify with Tea Partiers

from a distance and those who are actively engaged in the movement are

very similar. From the perspective of Tea Party detractors, the sympathizers

are for the most part as extreme as are actual Tea Party organizers

and participants.

And there are plenty of those

sympathizers. While people who are official members of Tea Party organizations

and those who attend Tea Parties are relatively few, those who are generally

sympathetic to their cause are many. In fact, taken together, these

three groups comprise 47% of likely voters according to our latest survey.

Senator Scott Brown's
assertion that he could not win with a mere

support of the Tea Party Movement misses this larger point: Tea Party

activists can elect few people but Tea Party supporters can elect many

more and winning without at least some of the Tea Party sympathetic

vote is, at the present moment, a tall order.

On the other hand, 32% of likely

voters say they have nothing in common with Tea Partiers, and 11% say

they don't believe in much of what the group believes and would never

join in one of their protests. Sandwiched between two large extremes

are those who believe in some of their goals but consider them to be

too outside the mainstream. Thus, we can divide the likely electorate

into three categories:

I belong to one of the Tea Party organizations7%47%Tea Party Supporters

I

do not belong to an organization, but I have attended Tea Party protests


8%

I

believe in most of their agenda, but do not belong to a Tea Party organization

nor have I attended a protest


32%

I believe

in some of their goals, but they are too outside the mainstream for

me


8%

8%

Ambivalent about Tea Party

I

don't believe in much of what they believe and would never join in

one of their protests


11%

43%

Opposed

to Tea Party


I

have nothing in common with Tea Partiers


32%

Other2%2%Other

President Obama's approval

among Tea Party supporters is very close to zero. In a very real sense,

this is the most uniting feature of the movement. Yet, in the wake of

the Senate election in Massachusetts, many Democrats seem to believe

that they can co-opt the movement's populist rhetoric, by lashing

out at Wall Street and talking about jobs, and in that way harness its

intensity while changing its target.

The success of this strategy

is by no means assured. The populist wave is at odds with Washington

on a lot of levels. Only 9% of them voted for Obama to begin with. While

they are sometimes perceived as the voice of the independents, this

is not entirely true, though they are somewhat less partisan than Tea

Party detractors. For example, 32% of Tea Party supporters are independents,

compared to 24% of their opponents, and 61% of Tea Party supporters

call themselves Republicans while 71% of those who dislike Tea Partiers

are Democrats.

However, a majority of both

Tea Partiers and their detractors are partisan and it is unlikely that

the current administration can gain much ground among them. To the contrary,

rather than calming them down, the White House's economic populism

might merely shift Tea Partiers' attention to their other grievances.

And a loud airing of these fresh grievances might turn out to be more

damaging to the administration and more widely recognized as legitimate.

For example, take a look at

the Tea Partiers' position on profiling, the causes of terrorism and

its view of the quality of the public discussion about it:

Which of the following best

describes your personal view?



Overall

Tea Party Supporters

Ambivalent about Tea Party

Opposed to Tea Party

I support

ethnic and religious profiling


53%

86%

60%

21%

I do not

support ethnic and religious profiling though I believe it can be effective


16%

6%

27%

24%

I don't

support ethnic and religious profiling and I do not think it is effective


22%

2%

8%

45%

Other

4%

4%

2%

4%

Not sure4%3%3%6%

Which of the following do

you think plays the most important role in terrorists' motivation

to attack the US?

OverallTea Party SupportersAmbivalent about Tea Party

Opposed to Tea party

Making Islam

the world's dominant religion


33%

60%

26%

7%

Resentment

of Western power and influence


27%

21%

31%

32%

U.S. support

for Israel


12%

7%

15%

19%

Death and

damage caused by US military


8%

1%

5%

15%

Poverty

6%

2%

10%

10%

Western freedoms

3%

4%

5%

2%

Psychological

disorders


3%

1%

4%

5%

Other

5%

3%

3%

7%

Not sure

3%

0%

2%4%

There is too much political

correctness in discussion of terrorism:

Overall

Tea Party Supporters

Ambivalent about Tea Party

Opposed to Tea Party

Strongly

agree


59%

93%

56%

27%

Somewhat

agree


17%

4%

34%

24%

Somewhat

disagree


12%

1%

9%

24%

Strongly

disagree


10%

1%

2%

21%

Not sure3%0%0%5%