Thursday, March 31, 2011

The decline of the Tea Party and the return to sanity (let's hope)

Well, this is interesting. It seems support for the Tea Party isn't what it used to be:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday indicates that 32 percent of the public has a favorable view of the two year old anti-tax movement, which also calls for less government spending and a more limited role for the federal government in our lives. The 32 percent favorable rating is down five points from December. 

47 percent of people questioned say they have an unfavorable view of the tea party, up four points from December and an increase of 21 points from January 2010.

So the Tea Party movement may be losing steam, or, what is more likely, as Nate Silver cautions:

It’s not clear, on the other hand, that favorable views are decreasing; they’ve never been much higher than the low 30s, and that’s roughly where they remain today. Instead, this is almost certainly a case of Americans who had ambivalent views about the tea party before now coming to a more negative impression.

But what I find most interesting is the profile of those who may be going from an ambivalent to a more critical view. As CNN reports:

The tea party movement's unfavorable rating rose 15 points since October among lower-income Americans, compared to only five points among those making more than $50,000.

As the pollster postulates:

It's possible the drop among lower income Americans is a reaction to the tea party's push for large cuts in government programs that help lower-income Americans, although there are certainly other factors at work.

I’m afraid this is one of the oldest political dynamics in the book. If you ask people a general question about whether government should be smaller or taxes should be lowered, a large number will certainly agree.

If you start to put content into that abstract concept, a surprising number will start to reconsider, reasoning that they didn’t mean that programs that directly benefit them should be cut or that taxes should be lowered if it adversely impacts delivery of programs on which they depend.

Republican candidates in the last campaign knew this would happen which is why they almost comically refused to provide details about what they would cut to make government smaller. They knew their support was based on keeping the concept of reducing the size of the public sector as abstract as possible.

It’s a common sleight of hand by conservatives and too many voters fall for it. Convince them you can get it done by cutting unnecessary spending and creating efficiencies and punishing fat cat public employees. Convince them that you can cut government programs that only benefit “other people,” people not as deserving. And then when they realize that the only way to cut budgets to promised levels is to gut important public services that they rely on, many unsuspecting folks may come to understand that they have been duped.

They seem to be figuring this out in Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan and Florida if a tad too late.

As I infer from Nate Silver’s comments, much of the support for Republicans in 2010 may have come from those who were ambivalent but decided to give them a shot. 

Let’s hope these latest numbers suggest that many are indeed waking up and that the metaphorical coffee is in fact being smelled. 

(Cross-posted from Lippmann's Ghost.)

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