Pew Poll: Support For Tea Party Drops To Lowest Ever

Audie Cornish talks with Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press about the Pew poll that came out Wednesday on the Tea Party and their stance on the shut down, debt ceiling, and a Tuesday poll looking at the broader GOP on the same issues.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Politicians and pollsters alike are watching to see how all this plays out. The Pew Research Center has just finished a poll to gauge the effect the shutdown and the debt ceiling debate have had on the Tea Party's image.

And joining us is Michael Dimock, director of Pew. Welcome back, Michael.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So, before we get into the numbers, just give us a snapshot of what you would consider your average Tea Party conservative. Who are they?

DIMOCK: Well, you know, the Tea Party membership is hard to define. There's no card that you get when you join the Tea Party. So we have typically just asked people at the end of our polls, just in general, do you agree with the Tea Party, disagree with the Tea Party, or don't you have an opinion either way. And what we find is about 4-in-10 Republican say they agree with the Tea Party.

These people tend to be a little more educated, a little higher income, a little whiter than nonwhite - although the Republican Party doesn't have a lot of nonwhites to start with. And their attitudes about how to approach politics and the issues of the day are very different.

CORNISH: So, Michael Dimock, the Pew has also looked at how people are viewing the debt ceiling. And in a separate poll, you asked whether people even think raising the debt ceiling is essential. How to Tea Party numbers compare there?

DIMOCK: Yeah. I mean the majority of Tea Partiers years don't think the debt ceiling needs to be raised tomorrow. Not only does it not need to be raised tomorrow, it doesn't need to be raised at all in the view of the majority of Tea Party Republicans. They really see this as a threat to America's fiscal soundness. They don't want to see increased spending and they're willing to really go to the mat on this.

CORNISH: But how does that compare to, say, independents or Republicans more broadly?

DIMOCK: Right. Right. I mean about half of independents told us that it's essential to deal with the debt ceiling by tomorrow, and only a quarter think that it doesn't need to be raised at all. Among Democrats, two-thirds say we've got to deal with this tomorrow. And very few think that this is just a non-issue the way most Tea Partiers do.

CORNISH: One of the most interesting numbers that came up is that among Tea Party Republicans, three-quarters, 76 percent, say their members of Congress should vote against a bill that they think is in the best interest of the country if a majority of the people they represent are against it. Help us make sense of that.

DIMOCK: Yeah. Well, one characteristic of Tea Partiers is they have a sort of populist view. They really want members to listen to their constituents very directly. And even if a member thinks it's in the best interest of the country to do one thing, but the constituents want the other thing, 75 percent of Tea Partiers say: You've got to listen to your constituents even in that circumstance. And I think that's what we're seeing today.

CORNISH: So what does that mean for their favorability numbers? What have you seen in terms of how the Tea Party is viewed over time?

DIMOCK: We've seen a drop in favorable opinions of the Tea Party just within the last few months. In June, 37 percent said they had a favorable impression generally of the Tea Party. That's down to 30 percent - it's the lowest that we've measured. We're seeing the unfavorable opinions of the Tea Party even reaching 49 percent - the highest that we've measured.

CORNISH: And to put this all in context, one thing you ask people is whether or not the Tea Party is part of the GOP. Tell us the answer to there and what it says about what's going on with Republicans generally.

DIMOCK: The answer is there is no answer. People don't know what the Tea Party is. Even among folks who agree with the Tea Party, 41 percent say it's part of the Republican Party; 52 percent say it's separate and independent from the Republican Party. There's not really a consensus about what the Tea Party is, whether it's kind of an outside groups trying to steer policy, or whether it's working within the Republican Party itself.

CORNISH: Michael Dimock, he's director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Michael, thank you.

DIMOCK: Thank you.

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CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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