A recent national Rasmussen poll found the lowest levels of support for the Tea Party since they began asking questions about the movement several years ago. Only 30% of respondents to the national poll (with a margin of error of around +/- 3%, 95 times out of 100) said they viewed the Tea Party favorably, with almost 50% having an unfavorable opinion. Only 8% of those polled identified as members of the group. Rasmussen isn’t always the most reliable or transparent pollster, but the magnitude of the decline in support this poll represents is thought-provoking.
Other national pollsters have found different results, but the Rasmussen survey has attracted a great deal of attention in the media, likely in part because it fits with some expectations about the future of the Tea Party after the re-election of President Obama and Democratic gains in the House and Senate.
Many, including an increasingly vocal group within the Republican Party, see the Tea Party as having failed in its objectives and to have hurt the GOP’s electoral chances by promoting extreme candidates in primaries who then lost in the General Election. Republican strategist Karl Rove has gone so far as to launch a new effort to back establishment choices against Tea Party insurgents in order to make sure the Party fields better candidates in 2014.
“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” Steven J. Law, the President of Rove’s American Crossroads SuperPAC told the New York Times.
Law has cited Tea Party favorites Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of whom lost Senate races in 2012 after making inappropriate comments about rape, as examples of the kind of candidates they’ll seek to prevent from winning nomination.
That may be the conversation at the national level, but here in Maine support for the Tea Party has remained remarkably steady over the past two years. That’s according to a series of public opinion polls conducted by the Maine People’s Resource Center (for which I work). As far as I know, MPRC is the only Maine polling organization to have made a consistent practice of asking about support for the Tea Party movement.
30.8% of Mainers surveyed declared themselves to be supporters of the Tea Party in May of 2011 and 26.5% did the same in a poll conducted earlier this month, results that are within the margin of error for comparison between the two polls.
In fact, support for the conservative movement has never dipped below 26% and has never risen above 31% throughout six polls conducted over that time period. It has fluctuated far less than party identification and only slightly more than broader ideological identities.
According to the most recent poll, the Tea Party has its highest level of support among 35-49 year-olds. It has a higher percentage of supporters in the Second Congressional District than in the First and a higher level of support among men than among women.
Interestingly, supporters of the Tea Party are just as likely to define themselves as “somewhat conservative” as “very conservative” and while 57% of them identify as Republicans, 32% identify as independents or members of another party and 11% say they’re Democrats.
Tea Party supporters represent a near-majority of members of the Republican Party in Maine and a majority of the 39.5% of Mainers who believe Paul LePage is doing a good job as Governor.
Tea Party members aren’t necessarily monolithic in their conservative political beliefs, however. Some national surveys have shown Tea Party members to be more willing to support new regulations on Wall Street than Republicans generally and in Maine solid majorities of Tea Party members surveyed have been willing to support what might at first seem to be liberal causes.
The latest MPRC poll, for instance, found that 56.1% of Tea Party supporters would find it acceptable to increase taxes on the wealthy to the point that individuals making more than $250,000 a year would pay the same combined tax rate as the average Mainer.
The Tea Party may have contributed to Republican losses in the last election, the legislative intransigence the movement has engendered may have led to gridlock in Congress, and Rove may be trying to rein them in, but none of this means that the Maine Tea Party will be going anywhere anytime soon.
There is a core minority of voters in Maine who have identified themselves as Tea Party supporters in Maine over the past two years and their numbers don’t seem to be diminishing. Perhaps a backlash over the 2012 election results will lead to a resurgence of what’s left of the moderate wing of the Maine Republican Party, but the numbers indicate the Tea Party will remain a force to be reckoned with in Maine for the foreseeable future.