Behind the Headlines: What’s driving the Tea Party Movement?

by David Winston

New polling data examines the demographics and political philosophy behind the Tea Party Movement

WASHINGTON DC (April 1, 2010) — Tea Party activists may be ardent supporters of economic conservatism but are similar to the overall electorate when it comes to economic priorities, according to the findings of a new report released by The Winston Group today on the political movement.

In one of the most extensive looks to date at just who Tea Party activists are, how they think, and the ideas that matter to them, the report found that 17% of the people polled considered themselves “part of the Tea Party movement” and more than four in ten Tea Party members said they were either Independents or Democrats.

In three national surveys, done for New Models from December 2009 through February 2010, 57% of Tea Party members called themselves Republicans, another 28% said they were Independents, and 13% were Democrats. Two-thirds of Tea Party members identify as conservatives but 26% say they are moderate and 8% described themselves as liberal

The study also found Tea Party members are more likely to be male by a 56-44% margin, slightly older than the electorate as a whole and middle income earners. When it comes to issues, the research found that Tea Party activists espouse a strong economic conservatism.

According to David Winston, president of The Winston Group,

“Our research shows that Tea Party activists’ top concern – economy and jobs — mirrors the majority of voters in the country.”

In the February 2010 New Models study, 36% of Tea Party members name the economy and jobs as their top issue with national deficit and spending close behind at 21% — over twice as high as the overall electorate. However, when given the choice in the January survey, Tea Party members favored “reducing unemployment to 5%” over balancing the budget 63-32%, which closely reflects the overall electorate (64-32%).

While Tea Party members prioritize job creation over deficit spending and tax issues, they value economically conservative policies because they view them as a means to reducing unemployment and improving the economy. Over 4 out of 5 Tea Party members (85%) say tax cuts for small business will create more jobs than increased government spending on infrastructure while the overall electorate prefers tax cuts by a more modest 61-31% margin.

Topline results [PDF]

Full analysis [PDF]

Tea Party Memo April 2010