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Tempest in a Tea Pot?

April 22, 2010, 4:23 pm | Posted by Dan Nejfelt

I’ve been meaning to blog about recent polls pertaining to Tea Party supporters all week. Last week’s New York Times/CBS News poll, which Beth alluded to yesterday, revealed a wealth of information, including findings that Tea Party activists tend to be churchgoing, angry, conservative, gun-owning, relatively affluent, middle-aged white males. Politico also did some exit polling of an April 15 Tax Day rally in Washington, showing nearly equal proportions of social conservatives and social libertarians at the event. (Politico’s sample appears to be a small subset of Tea Partyers, though – the New York Times/CBS poll showed that 13 percent of Tea Party supporters have attended rallies.)

I was chomping at the bit to tie together these and other findings into a broad analysis of the overlap of the Tea Party and the Religious Right. It was going to be such a grand project…then this morning I read a Politico article with a rather deflating title — “The tea party’s exaggerated importance.” Co-written by Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith, it argued in part:

In fact, there is a word for what poll after poll depicts as a group of largely white, middle-class, middle-aged voters who are aggrieved: Republicans.

The tea parties’ main expression has been public gatherings. But last week’s Tax Day crowds were not representative of a force that is purportedly shaping the country’s politics. About a thousand people showed up in state capitals like Des Moines, Montgomery and Baton Rouge – and even fewer in large cities like Philadelphia, Boston and Milwaukee. In some cases, turnout was less than the original protests spurred by the stimulus, bailouts, financial crisis and new Democratic president last April 15th.

In Washington, about 10,000 people showed up on the national Mall last week – a rally worth covering but far fewer than the tens of thousands who marched in support of immigration reform in March.

As an avid armchair analyst of the Tea Party, I found this almost disappointing on the one hand, like I’d been making a mountain out of a molehill. But on the other, it’s much more encouraging to find data suggesting that they aren’t the vanguard of a “spiritual revival” akin to the Great Awakening, as Senator DeMint told David Brody yesterday. In fact, they resemble garden-variety conservatives more than a burgeoning religious force taking the country by storm. I still think tracking and analyzing the Tea Party is important, but articles like these are a good reminder to not blow things out of proportion.

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