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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    Copyright 2010 The Moderate Voice
    • shannonlee

      Tea party candidates won’t run against the GOP. They seen how their involvement in a general election has helped Dems. What they will do is push GOP candidates to the right during primaries. Extremists on both sides will see this as a good thing. I do not.

    • Axel Edgren

      America’s biggest problems is that its citizenry is either hindered in their pursuit of being good citizens, or extremely poor at being good citizens.

      There will be some swinging of the pendulum (and swinging of, er, another thing over at the right-wing side) in 2010. The media will drool out some “The people have given a rebuke, will Obama turn into Reagan and proceed to ritualistically cut out the heart of all democrats to the left of Lieberman to satisfy the people?” and then the voters get to feel as if they are in charge – they’ve got a handle on all this.

      But will the Americans have changed a bit? No, and there’s the rub. I was more impressed with Obama’s potential than the fact that he actually gained a majority – words like “mandate”, “consensus” or “vox populi” are useless to me, because I know these are default processes we cannot avoid, not meritorious sieves that actually have any meaning. Unfortunately, Obama was unwilling to lead, and instead deferred to people who would never occupy the Oval Office for *many very good reasons*.

      Democrats should not govern for the same reasons that people with nervous tics and an unwillingness to deny demands for “ice cream for dinner!” should not have kids. Republicans should not govern for the same reasons that ego-maniacs whose google search history contains the word “jailbait” suspiciously often should not have kids. The people who scream “Keep government out of my medicare” should not govern or have kids, period.

      Another analogy: Democrats are as useful as the UN soldiers dispatched occasionally to stare at the surprisingly true-to-subject hell dioramas being created in third-world countries.

      Republicans are just as shameless, brazen, chauvinist, rule-breaking and, sadly, successful as the people the UN soldiers do nothing to stop in these settings.

    • Would you favor or oppose having a third political party that would run candidates for President, Congress and state offices against the Republican and Democratic candidates?

      Favor 64%
      Oppose 34%
      No opinion 2%

      Someone who tends to see the glass “half full” might look at these results and say, “Wow, 64% of Americans support having third party candidates on the ballot!” However, someone who tends to see the glass “half empty” might look at these results and say, “I can’t believe this! 34% of Americans oppose having third party candidates on the ballot?”

      I’m in the latter camp. To think that 34% of Americans are so partisan that they would oppose having a third party candidate in the ballot is extremely depressing. Perhaps these people should try living in North Korea or some other totalitarian regime. I hear they don’t such problems as third party candidates over there.

      • superdestroyer

        Do you really think that blacks, Hispanics, or the public sector unions want a third party. Most of those demographic groups are happy with one political party (the Democartic Party) and will vote for it no matter who badly the Democrats performs (see Detroit, Baltimore, Newark, St Louis, etc).

        The article is correct that swing voters are white voters. Non-white voters are overwhelmingly Democratic voters and have zero interest in any other party. As long as the non-white demographic groups keep growing, the idea that the Repubicans can survive, let alone a third party can survive is laughable.

        • elrod

          That assumes that the Democratic Party continues to remain the leftward of the two major options. If a party comes in from the left of the Democratic Party – like the Greens or some sort of Labor Party – in and around the big cities then non-whites might leave the Democratic Party.

          That so few non-Cuban non-whites vote Republican – even after achieving solid middle-class status – is a real problem for the GOP over the long term. Karl Rove thought he cracked that nut by pushing Christian conservative (anti-gay mostly) stuff that would appeal to blacks and Hispanics. But he ended up alienating Northerners opposed to social conservatism and working class whites angry over immigration reform (necessary to keep Hispanics in the GOP fold – even Cuban Americans support comprehensive immigration reform).

          It’s one thing for poor minorities in the inner city to vote Democratic or the left-most option available. But why do so many suburban middle class blacks, Latinos and even Asians vote overwhelmingly Democratic? It isn’t dependency on government transfer payments. Something else is going on.

          • shannonlee

            Maybe they believe that Reps are racists? I am not saying they are, but I am saying minorities believe it to be true.

            I don’t even know a lot of upper class black people that vote Republican, let alone middle class.

      • derHundepo

        C’mon, Nic. I agree that when looked at for the POV of “wow, both parties suck, we need someone else in here making sense”, that the 34% is discouraging. But when looked at in a little more depth, this article goes to exactly one reason why someone would oppose a third party: because it splits support from one of the main parties. To me, this is exactly what happened in the NY 23rd, to the detriment of the GOP and the (for all intents and purposes) Tea Party, both.

        • C’mon, Nic. I agree that when looked at for the POV of “wow, both parties suck, we need someone else in here making sense”, that the 34% is discouraging. But when looked at in a little more depth, this article goes to exactly one reason why someone would oppose a third party: because it splits support from one of the main parties. To me, this is exactly what happened in the NY 23rd, to the detriment of the GOP and the (for all intents and purposes) Tea Party, both.

          But if you read the question carefully (and I literally cut and pasted the question straight from the poll), you ‘ll that it doesn’t ask whether the questionee would personally support a third party candidate. It asks if the questionee would support or oppose having a third party to run against Democrats and Republicans, and third of Americans polled responded that they actually opposed having a third party.

          The fact of matter, however, that American already has several third parties. The Libertarian generally fields candidates for both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate every two years in virtually every state, and the Constitution Party and Green Party, while not as strong, typically fields candidates for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate multiple (maybe even a majority) states. One wonders, do these 34% of Americans who oppose third parties want existing third parties to no longer exist? And if the answer is yes, then why do they want these existing parties to no longer exist?

          My guess is that it is partisanship. In certain areas of the country (generally liberal-leaning) Democrats believe that a strong third-party candidate is more likely to “steal” votes from them than from the Republican candidate, and in other areas of the country (generally conservative-leaning) Republicans believe that a strong third-party candidate is more likely to “steal” votes from them than from the Democratic candidate.

          • tidbits

            “In certain areas of the country (generally liberal-leaning) Democrats believe that a strong third-party candidate is more likely to “steal” votes from them than from the Republican candidate, and in other areas of the country (generally conservative-leaning) Republicans believe that a strong third-party candidate is more likely to “steal” votes from them than from the Democratic candidate.”

            True enough, Nick, though it is also true that many have been raised to believe in the virtues of a “Two Party System” as opposed to one party rule (Soviet Union) or multi-party rule (Italy). It is part of the American snobbery that many believe our two party system is better than other systems. While that belief is empirically untrue, it is accepted by a broad swath of America.

            The numbers are interesting in themselves. Given the percentage of registered Independents, the 64% who support adding a third party means that roughly half that number are either R’s or D’s sufficiently repulsed by current politics and/or governance to shed the mantra of the two party system and look for other options. The glass is, I think, half full. When third party candidates start winning a significant number of elections, the glass will be more than half full.

    • ProfElwood

      As someone who sees both parties as somewhat different versions of corporately owned (which has changed lately, I used to think that they were only slightly different), I’m not going to cry a river if the tea parties hurt the Republicans. Once any group starts changing the elections, all sides get more concerned. It’s the tail that wags the dog.

    • DLS

      “To think that 34% of Americans are so partisan that they would oppose having a third party candidate in the ballot is extremely depressing.”

      Nic, I have long advocated 4-6+ parties, proportional representation, and a number of reforms in addition in favor of more democracy and direct democracy, and I lament this fact, but I don’t feel a great deal of despair about it. First of all, some of them are hopelessly just a mindless Duopoly herd. Some may truly want a bi-partisan system, or they believe that it’s the logical end point of political parties and coalition building (coalescence for defense as well as to overpower the opposition), and from viewing many things as resolveable as “binary” or two-day decisions, while having an opposition that is a good concept in itself as well as being a (at least a nominal) check on single-power monopoly. (Even 8 parties is a manageable cartel, when you think of it or admit it.) The rest are similar to the foregoing thinking group, and cynical, falling back on it as a defensive measure (opposition by default), or “lesser of two evils,” the way many of us non-liberals view the Republicans.

    • DLS

      “Once any group starts changing the elections, all sides get more concerned. It’s the tail that wags the dog.”

      Oh, it got the Establishment (located primarily in the Northest Corridor area) concerned, all right. I remember the venom coming from George Will and Sam Donaldson and others toward Perot, even on election night 1992. Other sources there (including the Wall Street Journal, which merits being noted here — read on) were attacking Perot and Perot voters, and displaying a predictable insular as well as elitist attitude, openly. The Wall Street Journal has gone to lengths in publishing statements against a multi-party proportional representation system (if a parliamentary system were sought, it might do the same) as well as against Perot and other independent as well as other-party candidates and other parties.

    • elrod

      A 3+ party system would be great. But I don’t see how it works given our Constitution. 3rd parties historically get their agenda absorbed by one of the major parties (Prohibition, some of Progressive/Bull Moose) – or their agenda disappears into history (anti-Masonic). In other cases 3rd parties serve as rearguard actions against change, or waystations while switching parties – like George Wallace voters in 1968 who overwhelmingly voted for Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1980 and Republican ever since (1976 was a brief exception for regional purposes).

      • shannonlee

        We will need to amend the Constitution in order to save our democracy from special interest groups. That may require changing some of our basic fundamentals of government. I agree with DLS, 4-6+ parties would be a great start…that is after we remove private funding from campaigns.