02/16/2010 11:21 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tea Party Polling

My column for this week looks at the recent polling on the Tea Party movement with a focus on how pollsters pondered this issue and then tackled it in longer form surveys released last week. Special thanks to the Washington Post's Jennifer Agiesta for providing some additional data.

For the most thorough review of perceptions of the Tea Party movement, I highly recommend the reports by CBS News, ABC News and the Washington Post's story and accompanying graphic.

I want to expand a little on one point made toward the end of the column: The number of hard core supporters is relatively small (somewhere in the mid-to-upper teens, depending on the measure), while a much larger percentage (45%) tell the Post/ABC poll they at least "somewhat agree" with the Tea Party positions on issues.

But which positions do these 45% agree with? After all, many sources will point out, there are many Tea Party movements with sometimes only vaguely articulated issue positions. Neither of the two recent surveys directly probed knowledge of the tea party positions, but it is possible to glean some sense of their perceptions by looking at other attitudes among the self-identified Tea Party sympathizers.

For example, as I noted in the column, expressed agreement with Tea Party positions is much higher with conservatives (63%), strong Republicans (67%), those who disapprove of Obama (65%) and those who express anger at Washington (69%). Here are some additional details from the ABC News report:

[Tea Party support] peaks among people who are more apt to see the government as wasting money; people who strongly agree with the movement say on average that the government wastes 63 cents out of every tax dollar it collects. People who disagree with the Tea Party see less waste, albeit still a lot - 47 cents on the dollar.

Tea Party supporters are more apt to classify themselves as anti-incumbent - 64 percent of those who strongly agree with its positions do so, as do 53 percent of those who somewhat agree, compared with 40 percent of those who disagree. And the movement's conservative, Republican base shows up in vote preferences for the midterm elections. Among registered voters who agree at least somewhat with Tea Party positions, Republicans hold the lead over Democratic congressional candidates by a very wide 70-22 percent.

Taken together, these results imply that among Americans who have heard something about it, the words "Tea Party movement" imply a politically conservative reaction against Obama, Washington and perceived waste in government spending.

But both surveys also yield evidence that most Americans know little or nothing about the movement, and some additional results suggest that those who are only "somewhat" supportive hold positions that may be at odds with those frequently associated with the movement. Here is more from the ABC News report:

While the Tea Party promotes limited government, some of its supporters have different views on government health care mandates. For example, 62 percent of those who say they agree at least somewhat with Tea Party positions also say the government should require businesses to provide health insurance for employees.

Even more, 71 percent, say government should require insurance companies to sell coverage to people regardless of pre-existing conditions. And while shy of a majority, a substantial share of Tea Party supporters, 43 percent, say government should require all Americans to have health insurance, from their employer or another source, with financial assistance for those who need it.