Tea Party Polling

by A. Jay Adler on April 14, 2010
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From The New York Times/CBS. My quick hits.

Tea party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, tend to be Republican, white, male, and married, and their strong opposition to the Obama administration is more rooted in political ideology than anxiety about their personal economic situation

Well, knock me over.

And while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.”

I’m not saying a thing.

despite their allusions to Revolutionary War-era tax protesters, most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.” Most send their children to public schools, do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost.

That’s encouraging. That’s a relief. Could their attitude toward Social Security and Medicare have anything to do with their age? And how, then, do they wish to make dramatic cuts in federal spending? Ah, wait…

More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent, compared with 11 percent of the general public, think that the administration favors blacks over whites. They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.

Is that all?

Asked what they are angry about, Tea Party supporters offered three main concerns: the recent health care overhaul, government spending, and a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.

During the last administration millions of people didn’t like torture, warrantless wiretaps, and some war or another. Every four years, tens of millions of Americans have”a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.” Even if the president really did win the election. Welcome to democracy?

“I just feel he’s getting away from what America is,” said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. He’s been in office over a year and can’t find a church to go to. That doesn’t say much for him.”

Burp.

They do not want a third party, and say they usually or almost always vote Republican. The percentage holding a favorable opinion of former president George W. Bush — at 57 percent — almost exactly matches the percentage in the general public that holds an unfavorable view.

No, really, I’m okay, I’m okay – I’m not crying, I’m –

AJA


11 comments

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate April 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Copithorne,

Considering where the term has been used, I can understand the confusion. Unfortunately, I see it used as an insult a lot.

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copithorne April 15, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Not my intention to call anyone names, so thanks for your correction, Kate.

Should I say that they used to call themselves that, ‘Tea Party supporters’ is inaccurate in the absence of a Party and that teabagging in any sense is neither derogatory nor an epithet? Nah. I’ll just try to do better in the future.

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Kate April 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Mr Adler,

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a good way to identify affiliations with a loosely-configured movement like the Tea Parties. They’re drawing a lot of first-time protesters, a lot of people who want nothing to do with any political party, and a lot of parents and grandparents. There is no real leader – while Fox News and Glenn Beck have been quick to pick up on the momentum and a certain similarity of outlook, they weren’t the starting point. I was reading about the Tea Parties several weeks before they appeared on Fox.

Okay, on with the poll dissection. While the methodology described at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15mbox.html?ref=politics is sound, the sample size is really too small for this kind of thing – which is why I tend to look at the results of multiple polls with a reasonable history (that is, they’ve been performing that kind of polling for a fairly long period of time) and a track record of being somewhere within shouting distance of accurate. I also mentally filter other polls against the known ones (Rasmussen, Gallup and the like).

With a sample size of around 1500 to gauge the views of a nation with a population of over 200 million, a handful of outliers is perfectly capable of biasing the entire thing, and the blind nature of this poll provides no means of filtering off the outliers. And yes, any kind of polling is going to be caught with that problem against a non-blind sampling that potentially introduces bias effects – all of which is a very long-winded way to say that there’s no easy answer to the question of accurate poll data.

The full poll data – as opposed to the snapshots offered in the article – tell rather a different story than the article suggests. Where possible, the poll used questions identical to those used in multiple NYT and CBS polls over past years, at least for some of the questions. Those are the ones most likely to have relatively accurate responses, and they are fascinating.

For instance, the question “Do you feel the country is on the right or wrong track?” (I paraphrased) has results going back to 1991. Identified Tea Party responders are on par with the general population view of October 2008: right around the crash. The general population view opinion began to grow more favorable in January of 2009, peaking in May 2009 and declining since then.

Given that one of the core tenets of the Tea Parties is that the US is overburdened with obfuscatory regulation (and having downloaded and started to examine the health care reform act, and quickly gone cross-eyed, I can certainly sympathize with that view – our legal documents are not easy for non-lawyers to read), it’s hardly surprising the Tea Partiers strongly disapprove of Congress’s performance.

Another question with a long historical record relates to the condition of the national economy. Again, Tea Partier opinions closely reflect the overall population at the time of the 2008 crash. On the question of whether the economy is improving or getting worse, the Tea Party results are actually more optimistic than general views from 2007 through late 2008, and for much of 2001.

Again, fitting Tea Party ideals of small government and individual responsibility, it’s not surprising to see a very strong lack of trust for Washington – but the opinion of the Republican party is in line with historical responses from 1985.

Tea Partiers also appear to be more interested in the deficit and the Federal Reserve than the general population.

Now the misleading question: the ‘birther’ question. As I understand the US law, unless Mr Obama renounced his US citizenship as an adult, it doesn’t matter where he was born because his mother was a US citizen at the time of his birth. Even if his mother renounced her citizenship after his birth, he remained a “natural born citizen” because of his mother’s status at his birth – regardless of where he was born. The ‘birther’ question perpetuates the misleading notion that one has to be born in the USA as well as the child of a citizen to qualify. (This is the kind of information that gets dredged up while trying to work out how the wife of a US citizen becomes a citizen – it’s an ugly, expensive process filled with bureaucratic minefields).

Another fascinating twist – of the identified tea party supporters, you would expect all the supporters to have a favorable opinion – but they don’t. Something isn’t connected there – or possibly some people got mis-identified or answered differently at different times, people being fallible and answering the same question differently depending on any number of things.

On the employment front, the Tea Partiers are actually less concerned about losing their jobs than the general population, but their financial situation matches that of the general population. Despite having a higher proportion of retirees, the Tea Partiers included more people who were working and fewer who had given up on work than the general population group. I don’t think it’s valid to claim that there are more old rich angry people – given that a very low proportion of the Tea Partiers responded with “don’t know” to the question asking what “socialism” meant to them (that question is perhaps one of the key questions for interpreting the survey results, as the strong responses to socialism as government ownership and/or control of business would probably correlate very strongly with the level of belief that the country is moving towards socialism – suggesting both sets of responses have a similar or related cause), it’s feasible that those who have worked, started small businesses, and saved enough to be ranked as “rich” (which seems to sit at around $200,000 annual income in general consciousness – an income that really isn’t “rich” if you have the misfortune to be married, have children, and work in one of the cities with insanely expensive housing – and that’s if your only debt is your mortgage (It’s also quite a lot more than I make in a year, for those who are wondering)). There are no mega-rich supporters of the Tea Parties. Glenn Beck is probably the wealthiest supporter, although with Sarah Palin’s speaking fees she’s closing in fast (and as I recall those fees are right about what popular public speakers charge) – and both of them support the general Tea Party trilogy of small government, reduced deficit, and less lifestyle regulation.

I do think the follow up interviews quoted in the main article were not a valid sample of the follow up interviews – given that the first two quotes were relatively neutral (in that the didn’t cast the speaker in either a good or poor light), the quote with which the article finished leaves a distinctly negative impression of the Tea Partiers and appears to have been chosen for that purpose, given the way the rest of the article chooses the more negative views, and phrases the cases where Tea Partier views match the general population in a way that makes these seem to be an anomaly. Someone is quite a talented persuasive writer, to put together a piece that appears to be fair but leaves a bad aftertaste. (I write – and have published – fiction. I’m not and will never be literary establishment, but I read widely in fiction and non-fiction and I’ve learned to pick up patterns which sometimes don’t really show up until much later – kind of like being able to ‘see’ the completed jigsaw puzzle when you’ve only got the edges and a few patches done).

Overall? The survey isn’t bad for what it is. The article about it and the summary images leave out far too much.

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Kate April 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Copithorne,

Do you generally approve of calling people by derogatory sexual epithets? You certainly appear to in this case, which makes any comment you make on on anything related to the Tea Partiers as credible as a woman who calls all men dicks discussing gender relations.

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Michael April 15, 2010 at 9:18 am

49% figure is from a nationwide poll. Here’s the link on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/15/poll.wasted.taxes/index.html?hpt=T2

Interesting that the number closely correlates to the number of households that do not pay taxes.

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copithorne April 14, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Some other quick hits.

24% of Tea Party supporters say that violence against the government is justified. That’s a very high number.

Regardless of your overall opinion, do you think the views of the people in the tea party movement generally reflect the views of most Americans? 84% of the self identified teabaggers said yes. Only 25% of the general public agreed.

1% are teabaggers are black. 1% are asian. 3% are Hispanic. 89% are white and 6% are “other” which is mostly white people declining to identify. 59% are male. Teabaggers are much older than the general population.

63% get their information from Fox News.

A majority self identify as “angry.”

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Kate April 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Mr Adler,

Just a quick comment before I go to bed (it’s late on this side of the continent). The key to this survey lies in one telling point: tea party supporters were self-identified. Given that 78% of the self-identified tea party supporters had done nothing to actually support tea parties other than say they supported them, I consider a certain amount of skepticism might be in order.

Hopefully I’ll be able to comment in more detail tomorrow, but for now, let’s just say I have doubts about this survey’s ability to correctly distinguish tea party supporters from non-tea-party-supporters. I need to do more research to say more than that at this point, and the need to sleep so I don’t make a hash of my job is a teensy bit more pressing.

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A. Jay Adler April 14, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Kate,
Definitely don’t screw up the day job. I’ll look forward to your comments tomorrow. But in the meantime, while I’m not likely to argue that any distinction is unworthy of being made, I think your point about self-identification (a term I used in my response to Michael, before I had read your comment) tends toward the casuistic if used to separate TPers from the findings of this poll.

How fine do we wish to make the distinction? Between self-identified (and, you state, otherwise inactive) and, what? Those who have attended a single rally, versus those who have attended several, versus those who carry signs and shout, versus the leadership? And which leaders are we going to count? Those with any Republican Party affiliations? Only those who have never before been politically active? And the rally’s – shall we distinguish between, again, those organized in a manner that passes the test for independent and those that were advertised and promoted by Fox news and Glenn Beck, with Fox news reporters ginning up the crowd.

Who are the real TEA Partiers? Any movement is going to have a top of the pyramid minority that is active, and an inactive body and base that identifies and supports. I think, unless we’re pursuing an agenda in our interpretation of the polling, “self-indentified” is as close to what we actually want to know about as we’re going to get.

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Michael April 14, 2010 at 5:38 pm

To sum it up as people dissatisfied with the fact that they’re party is out of power and that it happens every election cycle is short sighted.

You can’t just dismiss these folks as nuts or angry/unhappy people. There are valid concerns. Just as the concerns about trampling on people’s rights when Bush was president are valid. Bush did a number on the American people (This from a person who voted for him) and to many “Bushbots” it was okay because he had an “R” after his name. Now that Obama asserts the same authority, it’s not okay because he has a “D” after his name. Our nation is immature and needs to think critically about the issues. Too many dismiss ideas along party lines with out thinking. It’s truly a shame.

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A. Jay Adler April 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Michael, where did you get your 49% number for those self-identified TPers who are satisfied with the amount of income tax they pay? On page 32 of the polling data, that number is shown as 52%. A small difference, to be sure, but justifying “most.”

I don’t disagree with you in spirit. My humor is aimed at ongoing debate, in the political world, and recently on this blog, about the identity of the TPers. My contention all along, with many others, has been that they are fundamentally very conservative Republicans, often with certain antipathies, and not a grassroots upswelling of discontented across multiple demographics. This poll supports that contention.

That does not mean people’s concerns are not genuine and not worthy of debate, but the hysterical manner in which this debate has been joined by the PTers – manipulated by many forces – has itself been immature, to use your word. These are hardly new issues of debate in the country, and the fact is that tens of millions of Americans disagree with the TPers. Labeling Obama a Nazi and equating (still private) health care reform with a descent into fascism-socialism was not bound to earn the TPers the regard of those who disagree with them, any more that the demonization of Bush earned his critics the respect of Republicans.

You pretty much said the same thing.

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Michael April 14, 2010 at 5:33 pm

“despite their allusions to Revolutionary War-era tax protesters, most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.” ”

The actual numbers are 47% say they’re satisfied with the amount they’re paying in taxes. Funny that 49% don’t pay taxes. That just came out too.

Sarah Palin is htting a nerve with many Americans, both positive and negative. She’s become the target of much unneeded vitriol. Now that Bush is gone, someone must take the lumps… That being said, I don’t think she’s qualified to be our president.

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