There has been no shortage of articles and news segments speculating on the nature of the tea partiers. Who are they? A vocal but marginal minority? Or something larger? And, most of all: What do they want, anyway?
For the last three months, I’ve been working with a team of pollsters here at the Winston Group to answer those questions. Some of our findings were unsurprising – tea-party members tend to be conservative; a majority are Republican; they are concerned about the federal deficit and spending.
But some four out of ten tea-party members aren’t Republican, and a third aren’t conservative, painting a picture of a movement that is hardly monolithic.
There’s quite a bit of data to sift through, but the critical storyline that emerges is this: The tea-party movement is driven by concern about the economy and jobs. Yes, they place a high level of importance on the national deficit — over three times as many tea-party members name it as their top issue than do voters overall — but it doesn’t end there.
In question after question, tea-party members expressed their belief that things like low taxes and reduced spending can create jobs. For instance, 85 percent say that cutting taxes for small businesses will create more jobs than increased government spending on infrastructure projects. Yet when pressed on what they’d prefer — a balanced budget or a 5 percent unemployment rate — 63 percent picked the unemployment rate, similar to the overall sample of voters at 64 percent.
The tea-party movement can be defined by its belief in economic conservatism, but the ideology is not an end in and of itself. Just like voters all across America, of all political parties and ideologies, the tea party is primarily concerned with fixing our economy in order to bring jobs back.
Take a look at the analysis here for a more complete picture of our findings about the tea-party movement.
– Kristen Soltis is director of policy research at the Winston Group, a strategy and polling firm in Washington, D.C.