The nationwide telephone poll was conducted April 5 through April 12 with 1,580 adults. For the purposes of analysis, Tea Party supporters were oversampled, for a total of 881, and then weighted to their proper proportion in the poll. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for all adults and for Tea Party supporters.
Of the 18 percent of Americans who identified themselves as supporters, 20 percent, or 4 percent of the general public, said they had given money or attended a Tea Party event, or both. These activists were more likely than supporters generally to describe themselves as very conservative and had more negative views about the economy and Mr. Obama. They were more angry with Washington and intense in their desires for a smaller federal government and deficit.
Tea Party supporters over all are more likely than the general public to say their personal financial situation is fairly good or very good. But 55 percent are concerned that someone in their household will be out of a job in the next year. And more than two-thirds say the recession has been difficult or caused hardship and major life changes. Like most Americans, they think the most pressing problems facing the country today are the economy and jobs.
But while most Americans blame the Bush administration or Wall Street for the current state of the American economy, the greatest number of Tea Party supporters blame Congress.
They do not want a third party and say they usually or almost always vote Republican. The percentage holding a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, at 57 percent, almost exactly matches the percentage in the general public that holds an unfavorable view of him.
Dee Close, a 47-year-old homemaker in Memphis, said she was worried about a “drift” in the country. “Over the last three or four years, I’ve realized how immense that drift has been away from what made this country great,” Ms. Close said.
Yet while the Tea Party supporters are more conservative than Republicans on some social issues, they do not want to focus on those issues: about 8 in 10 say that they are more concerned with economic issues, as is the general public.
When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.
And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.
But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”
Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.
Others could not explain the contradiction.
“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”