The Tea Party movement has been catching our attention for some time now. We know that the Tea Party is creating political shifts. But are the shifts great enough to create a realignment or are they simply strong enough to readjust the focus of the Republican party?
It has been hard to tell because untill now, we haven’t been able to decipher a Tea Partier's party alignment when given the three traditional options Democrat, Republican and Independent. If they still identify as Republicans then maybe they are reshaping the Republican Party agenda. But if they are stepping out as Independents then maybe they are truly creating their own party. In this month’s national poll we gathered some of that data.
When asked “Do you identify as a member of the Tea Party?,” 25% of Americans said yes. However, when the Tea Party was added to our traditional party demographic question; “If you are a Democratic press 1, Republican press 2, Tea Partier press 3….” only 10% of Americans said they were part of the Tea Party. This suggests that a majority of those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party don't consider the Tea Party a independent political party.
Furthermore out of the 25% of Americans who identify as members of the Tea Party 62% also identify as Republicans, 25% as Independents and 12% as Democrats. Almost 47% of Republicans identity as members of the Tea Party. The Tea Party is attracting a large portion of the Republican Party, sugguesting that currently is it just a movement within the Republican Party.
Its ability to attract such a large number of Independents could be helpful for the Republican Party come election time, but it doesn’t seem likely that many Tea Partiers are leaving the Republican Party just yet.
Its large following could be rooted more in anger towards the government than actual party alignment. The Tea Party’s ability to withstand two Presidential elections will be the true test of its longevity. Is the party just mad at the current administration and Democratic Congress or do they have a charge? Withstanding Presidential elections forces parties to define themselves and their mission, not based on another candidate or party but on their own ideology and determined direction.
The other factor involved in a realignment is those Republicans who are opposed to the Tea Party movement and ideologies, those who might leave the party if the Tea Partiers were to reshape the Republican agenda. Are there enough to create a new party? Do they feel marginalized enough to leave or empowered enough to maintain a party if the Tea Partiers were to leave? We really have no data on that now. We can tell that 53% of Republicans don’t identify as Tea Partiers but we can’t differentiate between those who are apathetic and those who oppose the subset.