What is the Tea Party? Even its supporters don't know

Holly Bailey

According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll finds three in 10 Americans describe themselves as Tea Party supporters. What's less clear, the survey reports, is just what it means to support the Tea Party. The poll pretty much confirms what recent election results have proven about the Tea Party: It’s less an organized political party and more of a conservative ideological movement.

In many respects, the Gallup results show that the Tea Party is basically Republicanism operating under a different name. A majority of Tea Party supporters describe themselves as Republican—62 percent call themselves “conservative Republican” and 17 percent say they are a “moderate or liberal Republican.” Just 6 percent say they are independent, while 15 percent say they are Democrats.

It's true that Tea Party candidates like Rand Paul won their primaries in part by attacking the GOP establishment. But the poll finds Tea Partiers are still more likely to support Republicans. Eighty percent of the poll's self-identified Tea Partiers say they will support their local GOP candidate in a congressional race, compared to 15 percent who plan to vote for the Democrat.

That’s certainly good news for Republicans, since Gallup also finds that Tea Party supporters are the most enthusiastic voting bloc in the electorate. Eighty-two percent say they are “certain” to vote in the upcoming November midterm election. For Americans in general, that proportion is 66 percent.

What’s behind the enthusiasm? Simply put, anger and fear. Nine in 10 are unhappy with the country’s direction and see the federal debt as an “ominous treat” to its future. Almost equal numbers believe President Obama and most members of Congress deserve to lose their jobs.

A longer analysis from USA Today’s Susan Page and Naomi Jagoda goes deeper into what Tea Party candidates actually believe, in particular about race. Among their findings: Tea Party supporters are far more skeptical about claims of discrimination than Americans generally are. More than three out of four Tea Party types believe racial minorities have “equal job opportunities.” By comparison, only half of Americans agree with that sentiment.

Tea Party supporters also overwhelmingly reject the idea that racial discrimination has stoked economic disparities between blacks and whites. Nearly half of Tea Party supporters polled say blacks lag in jobs, income and housing “because most African Americans just don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty.” Only a third of all Americans agree.

This poll is part of an ongoing series analyzing the Tea Party movement that Yahoo! News has undertaken jointly with USA Today. You can read more here.

--Holly Bailey is a senior politics writer for Yahoo! News