Polls indicate party is far from fringe

This article first appeared on CommonWealthMagazine.org.
View or download as PDF with tables.

For those who continue to view the Tea Party as a fringe group of “nutcases” or the butt of an easy political joke, take notice.  The Tea Party has a sizable audience for their message in Massachusetts, according to several recent polls.  Three polls in the last two weeks have used different measures to assess support for the Tea Party movement in Massachusetts.

  1. This week’s MassINC Polling Group figures show that 40 percent of likely voters in Massachusetts hold a favorable view of the Tea Party, 40 percent unfavorable, and 20 percent unsure.  (VIEW TABLES)
  2. A Boston Globe / UNH poll shows 25 percent of likely voters in Massachusetts say they support the Tea Party movement, 44 percent oppose it, and 27 percent are in the middle.
  3. Yesterday’s Rasmussen poll shows that 39 percent of likely voters in Massachusetts think the Tea Party movement is good for the country, 40 percent say bad for the country, and 15 percent say neither.
  4. The same Rasmussen poll shows that 13 percent of residents consider themselves a part of the Tea Party movement, 73 percent do not, and 14 percent are unsure.

Digging into these polls a bit allows us to draw two conclusions.

First off, the Tea Party is a sizable political movement in the Bay State and its supporters exceed in number any reasonable definition of “fringe”.  The 40 percent who are favorable toward the Tea Party in the MassINC poll is in the same ballpark as those who are favorable toward the gubernatorial candidates Charlie Baker (37 percent), Tim Cahill (29 percent), and Deval Patrick (44 percent).  While those consider themselves “a part” of the Tea Party are fairly few in number (13 percent) in the Rasmussen Poll, sympathy for the movement is much wider, with 39 percent saying it is good for the country.

Secondly, support for the Tea Party is not confined solely to the right wing of the electorate.  The movement is largely conservative, for sure.  Among those who are favorable toward the Tea Party, 59 percent call themselves conservative, and 69 percent view Sarah Palin favorably.  However, while favorability toward the Tea Party is highest among Republicans (69 percent), there are also significant numbers of Independents (44 percent), and even some Democrats (17 percent) who see the movement favorably.

It should be noted that it can be difficult to peg support for the Tea Party movement in a poll.  Complicating factors include, among others, differing levels of knowledge of the movement, the lack of a defined membership structure, and lack of agreement regarding the movement’s core tenets.  But the truth is, the many mechanisms for polling the Tea Party each point to the unmistakable conclusion that the Tea Party, however defined, is a major feature of the national political landscape right now. As these three polls demonstrate, The Tea Party is also a force here in Massachusetts, and not just on the fringe.