↑ Wait, this wasn’t the tea party you had in mind?
Five years after helping sweep Republicans back into office, voters shed their support for the movement once described as “pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC.”
National public support for the far-right Tea Party movement has plunged to historic lows, according to new polling released by Gallup on Monday.
The survey shows that only 17 percent of Americans now actively support the Tea Party, while a majority (54 percent) neither oppose or support the faction which has aimed to drag the Republican Party further to the right in recent years.
As Democrats and self-identified liberals continue to represent the largest set of outright opponents, the largest drop in support for the Tea Party comes from so-called “conservative Republicans,” of which only 42 percent are now supportive, compared to 63 percent who described themselves as backers in 2010.
The other significant drop in support, noted Gallup, was among “Republican leaners”—independent voters who lean Republican. Among those voters, support for the Tea Party dropped a dramatic twenty-nine points, from 52 percent in 2010 down to 23 percent this month.
Since first appearing on the political scene in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2007 and the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the Tea Party was largely interpreted as a re-branding of the Republican Party after the political and economic disasters produced by the presidency of George W. Bush. Though many of its supporters spoke of it as an authentic grassroots movement fueled by conservative and independent-minded voters, observant critics—including journalists like George Monbiot and Matt Taibbi—documented how its founding and political development was orchestrated by well-known members of the Republican establishment and other elite interests.
Taibbi, for his part, explained the phenomenon of the Tea Party this way:
So how does a group of billionaire businessmen and corporations get a bunch of broke Middle American white people to lobby for lower taxes for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street? That turns out to be easy. Beneath the surface, the Tea Party is little more than a weird and disorderly mob, a federation of distinct and often competing strains of conservatism that have been unable to coalesce around a leader of their own choosing. Its rallies include not only hardcore libertarians leftover from the original Ron Paul “Tea Parties,” but gun-rights advocates, fundamentalist Christians, pseudomilitia types like the Oath Keepers (a group of law-enforcement and military professionals who have vowed to disobey “unconstitutional” orders) and mainstream Republicans who have simply lost faith in their party. It’s a mistake to cast the Tea Party as anything like a unified, cohesive movement — which makes them easy prey for the very people they should be aiming their pitchforks at. A loose definition of the Tea Party might be millions of pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC.
Despite such criticisms, however, the undeniable energy created by the Tea Party was widely credited with Republican Party victories in the 2010 midterm election, which returned the House of Representatives to GOP control and swept right-wing governors to power in numerous states across the U.S.
The bottom line of Monday’s polling, according to Gallup, is this:
Republicans made huge strides in the 2014 midterm elections, including increasing their majority in the House and gaining control of the Senate. However, the Tea Party movement that had played such a huge part in the GOP’s 2010 election successes was much less visible this time around. Still, several Republicans elected to the House and Senate with Tea Party support have become major players on the national stage, including presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The Tea Party movement has also been tied to the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican members of the House who have played a key role in the current battle to select a new speaker.
While the effects of the Tea Party movement on previous elections still resonate, the big drop in support from Republicans and Republican leaners over the past four or five years may indicate that the Tea Party movement’s impact on American politics is fading.
The Gallup poll on Monday was based on telephone interviews conducted between October 7-11, using a random sample of 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
This post first appeared in Common Dreams.