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Tea Party Supporters: Who They Are and What They Believe

By: Neil Middleton
By: Neil Middleton

A new CBS News/New York Times poll takes a look at the makeup of the Tea Party movement. The poll finds Tea Partiers are mostly white, they’re older, they’re angry and they’re better educated than most Americans. You can review the results here.

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

(Credit: AP)

They're white. They're older. And they're angry.

CBS News and the New York Times surveyed 1,580 adults, including 881 self-identified Tea Party supporters, to get a snapshot of the Tea Party movement. There is a lot of information to unpack; let's begin with the demographics.

Eighteen percent of Americans identify as Tea Party supporters. The vast majority of them -- 89 percent -- are white. Just one percent is black.

They tend to skew older: Three in four are 45 years old or older, including 29 percent who are 65 plus. They are also more likely to be men (59 percent) than women (41 percent).

More than one in three (36 percent) hails from the South, far more than any other region. Twenty-five percent come from the West, 22 percent from the Midwest, and 18 percent from the northeast.

(Credit: CBS)

They are better educated than most Americans: 37 percent are college graduates, compared to 25 percent of Americans overall. They also have a higher-than-average household income, with 56 percent making more than $50,000 per year.

More than half (54 percent) identify as Republicans, and another 41 percent say they are independents. Just five percent call themselves Democrats, compared to 31 percent of adults nationwide.

Nearly three in four describe themselves as conservative, and 39 percent call themselves very conservative. Sixty percent say they always or usually vote Republican. Forty percent say the United States needs a third party, while 52 percent say it does not.

They are more likely than American adults overall to attend religious services weekly (38 percent do so) and to call themselves evangelical (39 percent). Sixty-one percent are Protestant, and another 22 percent are Catholic.

More than half -- 58 percent -- keep a gun in the household.

More than three in four Tea Party supporters (78 percent) have never attended a rally or donated to a group; most have also not visited a Tea Party Web site.

For the purposes of the poll, those who have attended a rally or donated to a group have been deemed Tea Party "activists." Four percent of Americans fall into this category.

Tea Party activists tend to be even angrier, more pessimistic about the country and more negative about President Obama than other Americans who identify as part of the Tea Party movement. For a breakdown of the beliefs of these activists, click here.

What They Believe

(Credit: AP)

Fifty-three percent of Tea Party supporters describe themselves as "angry" about the way things are going in Washington, compared to 19 percent of Americans overall who say they are angry.

Asked what they are most angry about, the top four answers among Tea Party supporters who identify as angry were the health care reform bill (16 percent), the government not representing the people (14 percent), government spending (11 percent) and unemployment and the economy (8 percent).

More than nine in ten (92 percent) say America is on the wrong track, while just six percent say the country is headed in the right direction. Fifty-nine percent of Americans overall say the country is on the wrong track.

Eighty-eight percent disapprove of President Obama's performance on the job, compared to 40 percent of Americans overall. While half of Americans approve of Mr. Obama's job performance, just seven percent of Tea Party supporters say he is doing a good job.

Asked to volunteer what they don't like about Mr. Obama, the top answer, offered by 19 percent of Tea Party supporters, was that they just don't like him. Eleven percent said he is turning the country more toward socialism, ten percent cited his health care reform efforts, and nine percent said he is dishonest.

Seventy-seven percent describe Mr. Obama as "very liberal," compared to 31 percent of Americans overall. Fifty-six percent say the president's policies favor the poor, compared to 27 percent of Americans overall.

Sixty-four percent believe that the president has increased taxes for most Americans, despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans got a tax cut under the Obama administration. Thirty-four percent of the general public says the president has raised taxes on most Americans.

While most Americans (58 percent) say the president understands their needs and problems, just 24 percent of Tea Party supporters agree. Just one in five say the president shares the values of most Americans.

Only one percent of Tea Party supporters approve of the job Congress is doing, compared to 17 percent of Americans overall.

Twenty-four percent of Tea Party supporters say it is sometimes justified to take violent action against the government. That compares to 16 percent of Americans overall who say violence against the government is sometimes justified.

(Credit: CBS)

Sixty-three percent say they get the majority of their political and current events news on television from the Fox News Channel, compared to 23 percent of Americans overall. Forty-seven percent say television is their main source of Tea Party information, the top source; another 24 percent say they get Tea Party information from the internet.

Nearly half say the main goal of the movement is to reduce the role of the federal government, far outdistancing any other consideration. Just seven percent say the goal of the movement is to elect Tea Party candidates.

An overwhelming majority of Tea Party supporters, 84 percent, say the views of the Tea Party movement reflect the views of most Americans. But Americans overall disagree: Just 25 percent say the Tea Party movement reflects their beliefs, while 36 percent say it does not.

Socialism, The Birther Movement, and Tea Party Leaders

Ninety-two percent of Tea Party supporters believe President Obama's policies are moving the country toward socialism. Fifty-two percent of Americans overall share that belief.

Asked what socialism means, roughly half of Tea Party supporters volunteered government ownership or control, far more than any other answer. Eleven percent cited taking away rights or limiting freedom, and eight percent said it means the redistribution of wealth.

Thirty percent of Tea Party supporters believe Mr. Obama was born in another country, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Another 29 percent say they don't know. Twenty percent of Americans overall, one in five, believe the president was not born in the United States. (More on this part of the poll here.)

Tea Party supporters were asked in the poll what they thought of a few notable figures. The most popular was Sarah Palin, who is viewed favorably by 66 percent of people in the movement. Only 40 percent, however, believe she would be an effective president, a smaller percentage than Republicans overall.

Fifty-nine percent of Tea Party supporters have a favorable impression of Glenn Beck. Nearly as many, 57 percent, have a favorable impression of former President George W. Bush, despite his role in raising the deficit and overseeing TARP bailout of the financial sector.

Just 35 percent view John McCain favorably, and 28 percent view Ron Paul favorably. (More on this part of the poll here.)

(Credit: CBS)

Tea Party Supporters on the Issues

Tea Party supporters are more concerned with economic than social issues. Seventy-eight percent say economic issues are a bigger concern, while 14 percent point to social issues.

They are more likely than Republicans and Americans overall to see illegal immigration as a serious problem (82 percent), doubt the impact of global warming (66 percent) and call the bank bailout unnecessary (74 percent).

Fifty-three percent say the Roe v. Wade decision was a bad thing (compared to 34 percent of Americans overall), 40 percent oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions (compared to 30 percent overall) and 30 percent want gun control laws eased (compared to 16 percent overall).

(At left, watch CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds' report on the tea party and the poll.)

Ninety-three percent describe the economy as at least somewhat bad, and 42 percent say it is getting worse. Fifty-eight percent believe America's best years are behind us when it comes to good jobs, compared to 45 percent of Americans overall.

Just ten percent say the stimulus package had a positive effect on the economy (compared to 32 percent of Americans overall), while 36 percent say it actually made things worse. More than half say it had no impact.

Eighty-nine percent say the president has expanded the role of government too much. More than three in four say lowering the federal government is more important than government spending to create jobs.

And while the vast majority opposes the health care reform bill, 62 percent say programs like Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs to taxpayers. (The figure is even higher among Americans overall, at 76 percent.)

Views on Race

Tea Party supporters are less likely than Americans overall to believe whites have more opportunities to get ahead than blacks.

Just 16 percent of Tea Party supporters say whites have more opportunities to get ahead, compared to 31 percent of all Americans. Seventy-three percent say both have equal opportunity, compared to 60 percent of Americans overall.

Fifty-two percent believe too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Far fewer Americans overall -- 28 percent -- believe as much. Among non-Tea Party whites, the percentage who say too much attention has been paid to the problems of black people is 23 percent.

A majority of Tea Party suppers believe the Obama administration treats both blacks and whites the same way. But one in four believe the administration favors blacks over whites, an opinion shared by just 11 percent of Americans overall and seven percent of non-Tea Party whites.

More on the Poll:

Most Tea Partiers Believe Too Much Made of Problems Facing Blacks
Tea Partiers View Palin, Beck and Bush Favorably
Tea Party Activists Small but Passionate Group
"Birther" Myth Persists Among Tea Partiers, All Americans
Most Tea Party Supporters Say Their Taxes Are Fair
Bob Schieffer: Tea Partiers Not Just "A Bunch of Yahoos"
CBS Evening News: Tea Party Steeped in Fury

Read the Complete Poll on Who They Are (PDF)
Read the Complete Poll on What They Believe (PDF)

 


This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,580 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 5-12, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

 

An oversample of people who describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement were interviewed, for a total of 881 interviews. The results were then weighted in proportion to the adult population. The margin of error for the sample of Tea Party supporters is three points. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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