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'Tea party' is polarizing, but has many 'closet admirers,' poll finds

Americans who see the tea party movement in a favorable light equal – or slightly surpass – those who see it unfavorably, according to a new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll.

By Staff writer / September 15, 2010

People attend the 'Gateway to November' rally hosted by the St. Louis Tea Party and Tea Party Patriots Sept. 12, at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

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Forty-four percent of Americans now see the upstart "tea party" movement in a favorable light, according to a new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll.

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What's more, about 40 percent of tea party sympathizers say they would not attend a tea party event, meaning they are essentially "closet admirers" of the small-government movement, says TIPP pollster Raghavan Mayur.

"The general party line says the tea party is fringe, but I think most of the public hasn't bought that point of view ... and sees the tea party movement in a positive to neutral light," says Mr. Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence in Ramsey, N.J., who last weekend oversaw the poll of 908 American adults. "The overarching message here is that Democrats have been in denial about the tea party [phenomenon] … and I think it's coming back to haunt them."

IN PICTURES: Tea Parties

But the loosely organized "taxed enough already" movement, which has now claimed 18 primary and special election victories in support of mostly conservative Republican candidates, remains a polarizing force, with 41 percent of Americans viewing it unfavorably. In March, a Gallup poll showed 37 percent of Americans saw the movement in a favorable light versus 40 percent who didn't, but that poll used a different question and can't be directly compared with the Monitor/TIPP poll.

Debate has raged for months over whether the 18-month-old tea party movement would help or hurt the Republican Party in the midterm elections. In Tuesday's GOP primaries, tea-party-backed candidate Christine O'Donnell, an aspiring US senator from Delaware, bested longtime Rep. Mike Castle in a come-from-behind victory. Mr. Castle had been favored to flip Vice President Joe Biden's former seat to the Republican column, but Ms. O'Donnell's success could give her Democratic rival in the general election, Chris Coons, a fresh start.

"If Mike Castle isn't welcome in the Delaware Republican Party, the GOP has just hung out a sign that says moderates need not apply," said Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications chief, in a statement.

It's not the first time Democratic officials have sought to link the Republican Party – and Republican candidates – with the tea party, with the expectation that connection would drive moderate and independent voters from GOP candidates.

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