The Tea Party is losing support -- even among conservative Republicans
Results from last week's elections and national polling show the Tea Party has seen a major drop in popularity since 2010
It was just three years ago that the Tea Party was flying high. Riding a wave of anti-establishment and anti-Obama anger, Tea Party candidates knocked off Democrats and Republicans alike. Three years later, the Tea Party's light seems to have faded.
One can look at the results of last week's election in which the Tea Party underperformed. Ken Cuccinelli became the first Virginia major party candidate to lose a gubernatorial election when his party did not control the White House in 40 years. He lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is about as popular in Virginia as the Dallas Cowboys.
Cuccinelli's even more Tea Party aligned running-mate E W Jackson got crushed. Jackson lost by over 10pt compared to just 2.5pt for Cuccinelli. One could take this as a sign that Cuccinelli would have lost by even more, if he had run further to the right.
The only member of the statewide Virginia ticket to come close was Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain. Obenshain, who at this moment is involved in a race that is almost certainly heading towards a recount, was the least extreme of the three Republicans. He had some Tea Party ties, but went to much further lengths to distance himself from the brand. It showed in the results.
Indeed, the most successful Republican on election night 2013 was non-Tea Party member Chris Christie. Christie became the first Republican to win a majority of the vote in a statewide New Jersey election since 1988. He became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate outside of Florida to take more than 50% of the vote of the Latino vote in the last decade.
The same thing can be said for the Tea Party strength within the Republican electorate on election day 2013. Alabama's first district special primary runoff was tantamount to victory in the heavily Republican district. While both Bradley Byrne and Dean Young are conservative, it was Young who sold himself as the "Ted Cruz guy". Byrne had the establishment support and backing from the business community. He won by 5pt.
Yet, it would be silly to rely solely on a few off-elections to make a larger statement about the Tea Party at large. The problem for Tea Partiers is that last Tuesday's results seem indicative of larger national trends. The percentage of Americans identifying with the Tea Party continues to collapse.
The latest George Washington University Battleground poll found that just 19% of Americans said they would consider themselves a member of the Tea Party. The NBC News / Wall Street Journal survey found a record high 70% of Americans would say they were not members. Asked slightly differently, the last CNN / ORC survey discovered that only 28% of Americans held a favorable view of the Tea Party movement, while a record high 56% of Americans held an unfavorable view.
This polling is a major change from just three years ago. Before the the 2010 midterms, NBC / Wall Street Journal pegged the percentage of Tea Party supporters at about 30%, while 60% said they were not. In terms of the margin between the two sides, it's been a drop of 20pt against the Tea Party over the past three years.
The favorable numbers are even more telling: 37% of Americans held a favorable view of the Tea Party per CNN / ORC on the eve of the 2010 midterms. That was equal to the 37% who held an unfavorable view. Now, the Tea Party's net favorable is 28pt lower overall. It's not a brand politicians would want to be associated with in the general election.
In Republican primaries, it's not entirely clear that it's a positive either. Only 36% of Republicans said they were a member of the Tea Party in the George Washington University Battleground poll. That matches the 40% of Republicans who said they agreed with the Tea Party movement in the latest Pew survey.
I guess one could point to the fact that the CNN / ORC survey had 59% of Republicans voicing a favorable opinion against just 28% who have a negative one. Of course, the 31pt net favorable of the Tea Party within the Republican ranks is 30pt lower than how Republicans view the Republican party. The same survey also had only 43% of Republicans saying the Tea Party was mainstream, while 42% said it was too extreme. Those aren't particularly strong for a party where most Tea Partiers reside and leaves plenty of room for a non-Tea Party candidate in a primary.
That's quite different from three years ago when the Tea Party was quite popular among Republicans. Kaiser determined that 54% of Republicans said they were a supporter of the Tea Party in November 2010. 58% of Republicans agreed with the Tea Party in the final Pew poll before the 2010 election. Both of those percentages have dropped by 20pt now.
Republicans net favorable view of the Tea Party was +47pt just prior to the 2010 election, which has been cut by nearly 20pt as well. Only 19% of Republicans thought the people involved in the Tea Party were "too extreme" in October 2010 per a CBS News survey. Though the wording is slightly different, the CNN/ORC poll indicates that percentage has more than doubled in the past three years.
When you put it all together, it's seems pretty clear that the Tea Party in America is on the decline at this moment. The results from last week's elections in New Jersey and Virginia show that the candidates aligned most with the Tea Party did the worst. This mirrors the nationwide trend over the past few years where both the electorate at-large and even the Republican party voters specifically is moving away from the Tea Party.