From punchline to powerhouse: the 'tea party' at one year
The 'tea party' movement still has much to prove. Populist movements often fizzle. But it has reinvigorated the Republican Party and constitutional ideals in an era of fading federalism.
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But their real power is still in question. Sure, activists played a role in the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts, but likely less of a role in the election of Govs. Bob McDonnell (R) in Virginia and and Chris Christie (R) in New Jersey. They've pushed Republican Marco Rubio to a front-runner role in Florida against incumbent Gov. Charlie Crist, but tea party candidates in several early Texas primaries did not fare well against mainstream Republicans.Skip to next paragraph
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Tea partyers generally well-off
Meanwhile, a bevy of new polls paint tea partyers as class-conscious, and overall wealthier and better educated than the average American.
"Looking at polling data on the early folks involved in tea party movement, you saw clusters of people with relatively less past political participation, with very strong anti-tax, anti-government views, but also very strong pro-gun rights positions," says Professor Franklin.
"The latest CBS News/New York Times poll presents a picture of an aging cohort of pessimistic white folks, rattled by economic and cultural changes which have rocked their increasingly Twitter-fied, multicultural and multi-polar world (one led by a charismatic black guy who can swoosh 3 pointers with the best of them)," writes Charles Cooper at CBS News. "And their unhappiness with the verdict of the 2008 presidential election has led them down the rabbit hole."
New political energy
Yet for all the tea party's faults, occasionally misspelled and outrageous signs, costume dress, and passionate protest, it nevertheless presents a rare sign of life in a moribund Washington beset with a gloomy economy, miserable jobs numbers, and the partisan approval of health-care reform – the largest new entitlement since Medicaid.
“The most sobering data that we have in here is how much significantly more energized the Republicans are – and the independents, frankly – than the Democrats,” Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners said at Thursday's Monitor Breakfast.
Atlanta protester Susan Youngblood of Auburn, Ala., says she senses a newfound curiosity from mainstream politicians and journalists as they push and prod on the tea party, trying to figure out what makes it tick – and what role it might have in the November elections.
"I don't care whether they respect us or not," says Ms. Youngblood. "Now, they know we have the votes to make a difference."