Boiling Tea

04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • John Zogby Former president and CEO, Zogby International

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 organizations 7% 47% Tea Party Supporters
do not belong to an organization, but I have attended Tea Party protests
believe in most of their agenda, but do not belong to a Tea Party organization
nor have I attended a protest
I believe
in some of their goals, but they are too outside the mainstream for
8% 8% Ambivalent about Tea Party
don't believe in much of what they believe and would never join in
one of their protests
11% 43% Opposed
to Tea Party
have nothing in common with Tea Partiers
Other 2% 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 sure 4% 3% 3% 6%

Which of the following do
you think plays the most important role in terrorists' motivation
to attack the US?

Overall Tea Party Supporters Ambivalent about Tea Party Opposed to Tea party
Making Islam
the world's dominant religion
33% 60% 26% 7%
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%
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
59% 93% 56% 27%
17% 4% 34% 24%
12% 1% 9% 24%
10% 1% 2% 21%
Not sure 3% 0% 0% 5%

The data suggests that terrorism
can be used to reinforce unity among Tea Partiers while scoring legitimate
points with detractors. And it appears that Republicans are increasingly
recognizing this and might have already utilized it in the recent Massachusetts
election. Politico
reported that Brown's advisers thought the
"terrorism issue actually broke more in Brown's favor than did his
opposition to Obama's health care reform plan." Though some surveys
showed health care to be the most important issue for Massachusetts voters
and the public is relatively satisfied with the president's handling
of terrorism, Brown did not shy away from his views that he was against
civil trials for accused terrorists and that water-boarding was not
torture. Consistent with this,
from recent elections in Massachusetts

shows that Brown out-performed Mitt Romney in conservative districts
while he underperformed him in more moderate, suburban districts.

Though, on average, somewhat
more male with a somewhat less formal education than their detractors,
Tea Partiers are most distinguished by their attitudes, not their demographics.
The anger driving opposition to Washington is primarily directed at
the ideas of the intellectual elite, of which health care reform is just
one expression. For example, they are much less likely than their opponents
(5% vs. 40%) to take the globalist view of their residence as planet
Earth - a view, one would guess, shared by a substantive proportion
of the cosmopolitan elite. Likewise, popularity of Sarah Palin with
the movement is probably more due to mutual animosity between her and
assorted intellectuals than to her principled policy positions.

Contrary to the often repeated
claim that Tea Partiers lack agreed upon set of views, our data shows
that terrorism and perceived unwillingness to talk about it in a straightforward
manner might be another issue around which opposition to Washington
will rally. Ironically, shifting their attention from health care might
make Tea Partiers angrier.

John Zogby is president
and CEO of Zogby International, a global polling and market research
company. He is the author of The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on
the Transformation of the American Dream (Random House, 2008).

Co-author Zeljka Buturovic
has been a research associate at Zogby International since 2008. She
holds a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University.