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The future is anything but bright for the tea party. The faux grassroots movement started by a GOP consultant and funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers is now less popular than atheists and Muslims and ranks almost as low as the Christian ultra-right in the view of mainstream Americans.
A New York Times/CBS News poll shows tea party support down to 20 percent while unfavorable opinions of the group have doubled.
David E. Campbell, an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame, and Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, are the authors of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” In an August 16 op-ed column in The New York Times, they wrote:
The Tea Party is increasingly swimming against the tide of public opinion: among most Americans, even before the furor over the debt limit, its brand was becoming toxic. To embrace the Tea Party carries great political risk for Republicans, but perhaps not for the reason you might think.
Polls show that disapproval of the Tea Party is climbing. In April 2010, a New York Times/CBS News survey found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of it, 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Now, 14 months later, Tea Party supporters have slipped to 20 percent, while their opponents have more than doubled, to 40 percent.
Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.
Putnam and Campbell, for the last five years, have studied and researched national political attitudes. They interviewed more than 3,000 American voters. They found the party’s “origin story” was more fantasy than fact.
Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.
What Putnam and Campbell found coincides with earlier findings of research by Capitol Hill Blue. The tea party did not grow out of the grassroots but was created in the conference room of the office of GOP consultant Eddie Mahe in Washington in a project for former Republican Congressional leader Dick Armey and Charles and David Koch.
That work created a phony group called “Citizens for a Sound Economy,” which later morphed into the tea party.
Putnam and Campbell found that tea partiers are “overwhelmingly white,” that they have a lower “regard for immigrants and blacks” than other, more mainstream Republicans and they are — for the most part — longtime social conservatives who oppose abortion and want to see religion play a more prominent role in politics and governments.
Putnam and Campbell say tea partiers “seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.”
On everything but the size of government, Tea Party supporters are increasingly out of step with most Americans, even many Republicans. Indeed, at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, today’s Tea Party parallels the anti-Vietnam War movement which rallied behind George S. McGovern in 1972. The McGovernite activists brought energy, but also stridency, to the Democratic Party — repelling moderate voters and damaging the Democratic brand for a generation. By embracing the Tea Party, Republicans risk repeating history.