Two months after November’s historic midterm elections, Pennsylvania voters say the Tea Party movement’s impact and appeal are lasting beyond campaign slogans.
"Democrats have long thought that the Tea Party could be used against the GOP," said Isaac Wood, a political analyst at University of Virginia. "But if it remains at least somewhat popular across demographic groups, they may have to reconsider that premise."
A statewide poll for the Tribune-Review by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling & Research found 47 percent of respondents think the Tea Party played a positive role in the recent elections. Thirty-nine percent thought the party had a negative impact, and 11 percent were undecided. The poll of 800 people, taken from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
The Tea Party’s popularity swelled last year, as its supporters’ sharp rhetoric matched the surly feeling of fed-up voters who wanted more action on the economy and general cutbacks in government spending, Wood said. But some political watchers have questioned whether the movement has staying power.
"This poll reinforces much of what was already suspected about the Tea Party in a battleground state: Republicans mostly supported the Tea Party, while Democrats opposed it, and independents were roughly split," Wood said.
The Tea Party’s favorable image has distinct regional divides in the state, said Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling.
"In the southwest, the Tea Party favorability is nearly 3 to 1, while in the southeast, most voters have a negative view of the movement in general," he said.
Tom Druckenmiller, a Democrat from Allentown in the Lehigh Valley, is among those who aren’t fans.
"Most people that go to Tea Party rallies are racist, homophobic and also misogynistic," said Druckenmiller, 58, a retired nurse. "I think that (Tea Party supporters) are intoxicated with influence by the right-wing media."
But, said Mary Miriello of Monongahela, also a Democrat, "Their influence in the abolishment of earmarking was positive."
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed supported the earmark ban on lawmakers’ favored projects that is sought by Republicans for the new Congress.
"But I also think they need to be less negative; there was a little too much ‘No’ coming from their rallies," said Miriello, 60, of the Tea Party supporters. "I would like to see more compromising."
The survey found men support the Tea Party movement more than women. Republicans strongly support its ideals; independents moderately do so; and Democrats showed weak support.
"Those are typical numbers for Tea Party demographics," said Keystone College professor Jeff Brauer.
People who disapprove of President Obama’s performance strongly support the party. The poll found 50 percent of Pennsylvania voters disapprove of the job Obama is doing in the White House, reflecting numbers in a recent national Gallup poll.
The fact that young people think favorably of the Tea Party stands out, Brauer said, and could help shape the Republican and Democratic parties.
"This should be most disheartening to Democrats, who usually are best at attracting the youngest age group," Brauer said, noting that 48 percent of those ages 18 to 44 have a positive view of the Tea Party, and "that cuts into Democratic support in the state."
Tribune-Review Political Reporter