New polls make tea party leaders ask: Are we in trouble?

Almost half of all Americans – 47 percent – have an unfavorable view of the tea party movement, almost twice as many as 15 months ago.

Steve Helber / AP
Tea Party member Greg Hernandez, of Quicksburg, Va., wearing a tri-corner hat and tea bag, listens to speakers at a rally at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., in March 2010. New polls show increased unfavorable attitudes towards the tea party movement.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out Wednesday shows the tea party movement at a high point of unpopularity. The survey found 47 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the small-government, anti-tax movement – a 21-point rise in unfavorability since January 2010. Other polls, including one by the Washington Post, show similar results.

Most of the newly negative attitudes seem to have come from those who had either never heard of the tea party or had no opinion of it, 15 months ago. The tea party’s favorability is at 32 percent, down from 38 percent last November but roughly the same as in January 2010.

Before opponents of the tea party start celebrating, they should note that those unfavorability numbers are now on a par with those of both the Democratic and Republican parties, according to CNN.

But some conservative commentators have begun to wonder if the tea party movement is fading. “Has the wind gone out of the sails of the smaller-government movement?” asks Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Examiner. He notes the low poll ratings of newly-elected Republican governors who have cut spending and crossed public unions.

And at least one tea party leader, Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, is asking, “Is the tea party over?” That was the title of his blog post at the group’s web site Wednesday. He cites multiple reasons why the movement “may be down for now.” One is that it’s a political lull season. Another is fatigue.

“Anger can only carry you for so long,” he writes. “Budgets and deficits in the trillions no longer shock people. We have become numb to it.”

Mr. Phillips also suggests that the economy isn’t bad enough to inspire people to take to the streets. Perhaps the protest called for Thursday by another tea party group – Tea Party Patriots – at the US Capitol will test that theory.

But ultimately, Phillips concludes, the tea party isn’t over, because it can’t be. “In the next few months, we will see a revival of the conservative movement,” he writes. “We must. The thought of four more years of an un-American president is simply too much.”

Mr. Barone sees hope for the tea party in other new Republican governors. “[New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, both elected in 2009, have won public acceptance of major spending cuts by making the alternatives and the facts clear,” he writes. But, he adds, the press won’t make the tea partyers’ case. “Republicans and tea partyers need to do it themselves,” Barone writes.

One sign of the tea party movement's continuing popularity – or lack thereof – may come in how many attend the Tea Party Patriots’ “Continuing Revolution Rally” at the Capitol Thursday. Ten members of Congress – including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, and some high-profile tea party-backed freshmen – are on tap to speak.

And so, as congressional Republicans and Democrats struggle to reach a deal on government funding – with a possible government shutdown just over a week away – tea partyers seem to be very much part of the conversation. Reports that House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy has met with conservative Democrats to work out a budget deal only add fuel to the tea partyers’ mission. The deal in the works would cut spending by $30 billion for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, less than half of the $61 billion that fiscal conservatives are demanding, the Washington Post reports.

Tea partyers say they will work to defeat members who compromise, including running primary candidates against Republicans in the next election. But if tea party Republicans block a compromise, and there is a government shutdown, the Republican party as a whole risks being blamed. Tea partyers say they don’t care. They would rather see a shutdown than a compromise on fiscal discipline. And they say Democrats – including President Obama – will be blamed.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.