A new CNN poll contains two significant tidbits: (1) Many Americans would welcome a third party, and, (2)if the Tea Party movement runs candidates in races with a Republican and Democrat the candidate will hurt the GOPer. Details:

Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday also indicates that Tea Party activists would vote overwhelmingly Republican in a two-party race for Congress. The party’s GOP leanings, the poll suggests, may pose a problem for the Tea Party movement if it tries to turn itself into a third party to compete with the two major parties in this year’s general election.

Which clearly means the GOP needs to co-opt the Tea Party movement if it wants to maximize its election results or, in some cases, make gains. MORE:

[SEE IMPORTANT NOTE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST ABOUT AN EARLIER ERROR IN THE HEADLINE]

“If the Tea Party runs its own candidates for U.S. House, virtually every vote the Tea Party candidate gets would be siphoned from the GOP candidate, potentially allowing the Democrats to win in districts that they might have otherwise lost,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “While the concept of an independent third party is extremely popular, most Americans, including most Tea Party supporters, don’t favor a third party that would result in a winner who disagrees with them on most major issues.”

Another significant number:

According to the survey, roughly 11 percent of all Americans say they have actively supported the Tea Party movement, either by donating money, attending a rally, or taking some other active step to support the movement. Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas.

Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans, and more than three in four call themselves conservatives.

“Keep in mind that this is a pretty small sample of Tea Party activists,” notes Holland. “But even taking that into account, the demographic gaps that the poll finds between those activists and the general public on gender, education, income, ideology, and voting behavior appear to be significant differences.”

And so is this one:


The poll indicates that about 24 percent of the public generally favors the Tea Party movement but has not taken any actions such as donating money or attending a rally. Adding in the 11 percent who say they are active, a total of 35 percent could be described as Tea Party supporters. That larger group is also predominantly male, higher-income, and conservative.

Some 45 percent of all Americans say they don’t know enough about the Tea Party to have a view of the movement; one in five say they oppose the Tea Party.

The survey indicates that most Tea Party activists describe themselves as “Independents,” but Holland notes:

“But that’s slightly misleading, because 87 percent say they would vote for the GOP candidate in their congressional district if there were no third-party candidate endorsed by the Tea Party…”.

Moreover, the survey finds that in a two way race GOPers would be ahead 47 to 45 percent. But in a three way race, the GOPer is down 12 percent.

That’s because virtually everyone who would vote for a Tea Party candidate in a three-way contest would choose a Republican in a two-way race. The Democratic candidate gets 45 percent in both scenarios, but the GOP candidate’s share of the vote drops from 47 percent in a two-way contest to just 33 percent with a Tea Party candidate on the ballot.

“Historically, that’s the problem many political movements have faced if they try to become a full-fledged party. They often wind up ensuring the victory of the candidate they dislike the most,” adds Holland.

And the larger finding:


Sixty-four percent of all Americans say they like the idea of a third party that would run against the Democrats and Republicans. But only 38 percent would support a third party if its presence on the ballot would mean that the winning candidate is one that disagrees with them on most major issues. According to the poll, Tea Party activists feel the same way: Only 4 in 10 favor a third party that would result in the election of candidates they don’t like.

So look for the Republican party apparatus (and possible candidates such as Sarah Palin) move swiftly and steadily to try and absorb the movement. The key questions then become:

  • Will the Democrats in general and the White House in particular try to sow divisions within the movement?
  • How will some of the original founders and followers of the movement react when the GOP moves to try and ensure that the Tea Party movement is on the same unquestioning page as the GOP?
  • Does this ensure more than ever that Barack Obama will edge more towards the center, or with the Demmies try to use the threat of Tea Party/GOP political gains to rally Democrats and those independents who don’t consider themselves Republicans and conservatives to their side?
  • Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter.

    CORRECTION: It’s TMV’s policy to correct errors — and there was a major error in the original headline on this post. It said “Tea Bag” versus “Tea Party” and contrary to what we are sure some may think the reason for the dumb error was….I was drinking green tea when I wrote it. Really. You will note that the phrase Tea Party was used in the post itself. This error was further compounded the the fact that earlier this week my 14 year old cat died after a terrible final few weeks with kidney failure. And today — a day when I also learned how to use Twitter — was my first “real” day doing blogging and nonblogging tasks. TMV and yours truly regret the errof.

    JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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