You might think that with Ted Cruz still hoarse from faux filibustering the Senate, and House conservatives on the brink of shutting down the government, Tea Partiers would have reason to celebrate. But a Gallup poll released this morning might put any partying on hold: Popular support for the conservative movement has dwindled to a near-record low.
— Salon.com (@Salon) September 26, 2013
The percentage of Americans who support the Tea Party shrank from 32 percent in November 2010, when Republicans retook the House of Representatives, to just 22 percent today. That’s not quite as low as the 21 percent support it commanded in late 2011, but it's still a distinct downward slide that looks set to continue. Opponents of the movement now outnumber supporters by five percentage points. The pollster Lydia Saad lays out the bottom line:
U.S. support for the Tea Party is at a low ebb at a time when key issues of concern for the movement — funding for the Affordable Care Act and raising the U.S. debt ceiling — are focal points in Washington, with Tea Party-backed Sen. Ted Cruz prominently fighting both policies. [Gallup]
It’s tempting to blame the junior senator from Texas for America’s cooling on the Tea Party.
Cruz’s theatrics in the Senate have reinforced his status as the patron saint of the movement, and to many, he has become its public face. But many Republicans believe Cruz’s strategy is harming the party, and that distaste may be translating into waning support among moderate conservatives for Tea Party goals. Cruz and fellow rabble-rouser Sen. Mike Lee (R– Utah) “have absolutely no idea what they are doing,” complains Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, a onetime cheerleader for the movement:
Lee and Cruz’s insistence that they are the ones "fighting" is belied by the facts. They are actually intent on running into a concrete wall again and again to prove their political machismo. For many Republicans this isn’t bravery but stupidity. [The Washington Post]
But perhaps, as Jeb Golinkin suggested at TheWeek.com earlier this year, the Tea Party is losing support because its followers believe it has sold out to the mainstream Republican Party. Supporters may have realized that what was once a grassroots movement of true believers has been "appropriated by a new class of political insiders," made up of freshmen congressmen awed by Washington, and money-scraping strategists for political action committees:
"All of them owe their power to the existence of this thing called the Tea Party. But now they have to maintain the illusion that the Tea Party is totally distinct from the GOP, and stands for meaningfully different values. Otherwise, those [congressmen] may no longer seem quite so special, and those PACs may be viewed as the latest in a long line of conservative money-gathering operations." [The Week]
Then again, while support is dwindling, opposition to the Tea Party is not growing. In fact, 51 percent of Americans said they had no strong feelings about the movement at all — neither supporting nor opposing it, or having no opinion. And the percentage of people who consider themselves Tea Party supporters is still higher than those who admit to being liberal, notes William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection:
"Think about it another way, if you were at a dinner table with four other people who represented the American electorate, one of the people at the table would be a Tea Party supporter. And two others would have no opinion." [Legal Insurrection]
And if Tea Partiers still believe their movement is leaking popular support, they might be comforted by the fact that there is still one group in politics even less popular than they are: The U.S. Congress.