Tea Party Not Monolithic

Much has been written during this election cycle about the Tea Party movement and its support of candidates during the Republican primaries.  Now, after a caucus and three primaries, about all we can say for certain about people who support the Tea Party movement is that they are as diverse in their support and opinions as is much of the Republican Party.

During the 2010 election cycle, we saw a tsunami that delivered the House of Representatives to the Republican Party.  The Tea Party movement certainly had a great deal to do with that result through the energy and the activism that resulted from the 2009 protests, town halls, and of course the 9/12 march on D.C.  However, according to a detailed analysis of the results by Pew Research, it was the independents who delivered the decisive win to the Republicans.

The research narrative by Pew pointed this fact out:

The proportion of self-described conservative voters increased by nearly a third from 2006 -- from 32% to 42% -- and is the highest percentage of conservative voters in the past two decades.  However, the single biggest factor in the GOP's victories was its striking gain among political independents. By 56% to 37%, more independents voted for the Republican candidate this year; four years ago, independents favored the Democrat by nearly an identical margin (57% to 39%). And just two years ago, Barack Obama won the votes of independents (by 52% to 44%) on his way to the White House.

Those people who supported the Tea Party movement or considered themselves part of that movement voted 86% to 11% for the Republican candidates.  The outcome was not unexpected inasmuch as the Tea Party movement had rallied around the key tenets of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets.  All part of the Republican platform and in general those candidates who ran as Republicans.

However, as we begin to look to the 2012 races, and after completing the Iowa caucus and three primaries, we find that the Tea Party movement appears as fragmented as the electorate in general.  The following polling by American Research Group, Inc. provides a dramatic view to this factor in why we are seeing so much churn among the candidates and, frankly, the emotion among Tea Party supporters.

These numbers point to two factors.  First, Mitt Romney enjoys broad support among those who support the Tea Party.  Second, Tea Party support is as diverse as the electorate's when it comes to choice of a candidate.

Actual exit polls from the Florida primary actually show Romney beating Newt Gingrich in Tea Party support.  Exit polls show that 65 percent -- nearly two-thirds of the Republicans who voted in the Florida primary -- "support" the Tea Party.  Of those, 41 percent chose Romney and 37 percent chose Newt Gingrich.  However, "hardcore" Tea Party supporters broke 45 percent Gingrich; 33 percent went with Romney, 17 percent backed Rick Santorum, and 5 percent chose Ron Paul.

During this election cycle, the Memphis Tea Party, after doing a purely unscientific survey of its mailing list, endorsed Mitt Romney for president.  The results of that survey are indicated in the table below:

Informal Survey Memphis Tea Party Mailing

Interestingly, that endorsement raised a series of comments from support to excoriating disagreement.  What I found troubling about that very dialogue, or lack thereof, is that it ignores the diversity of the movement, its leadership, and its supporters.  Based on the aforementioned research polling, that endorsement was no more surprising than being a reflection of the electorate at large and the Tea Party in particular.  In fact, our informal survey revealed that a good number of people don't want any of the candidates.

So where is the Tea Party movement in all of this data?  About where many among the electorate are in making a choice of candidates to represent the party for the nomination.  Also, this is likely one reason why we have seen such churning in support for the various candidates from time to time.  But based on this analysis, it is also quite possible that the process of selection we are now undertaking is less about the differences in "we the people" and more about differences in the emotion and anger throughout that electorate over Washington.

If past is prologue, it would appear that the eventual nominee will gain the support of the vast majority of Republicans, independents, and Tea Party supporters.  And while some have stated that they will simply stay home, the imperative to make Barack Obama a one-term president may overcome even their inertia.

In the end, you can disagree with the numbers, ignore the data, and be "mad as hell."  But the Tea Party movement is clearly not a monolithic movement.  As Senator Jim DeMint said in his interview with S.E. Cupp when asked if he thinks that the Tea Party's credibility will be tested this election, "[t]here is no one candidate that fits the Tea Party because the Tea Party comprises so many different small groups around the country -- from Libertarians to disaffected Democrats to conservatives and Independents."

However, what is critical to this dialogue is to maintain a level of decorum and civility.  Yet we are far better off with that emotion and intensity than we are fighting in the streets, as we see happening in many parts of the world.  Politics isn't a beanbag-toss, so we will likely continue to contend with our particular point of view.  And that's why no monolith exists in the Tea Party!

Mark Skoda is a syndicated conservative talk show host, blogger, and founder of the Memphis Tea Party.  He is also president of MPS Broadcasting.  He can be contacted at mark@markskoda.com.