Researchers at William & Mary and the University of California-Davis somehow convinced nearly 12,000 FreedomWorks members to take a survey exploring their ideological and policy positions in order to analyze how the attitudes of the most ardent members of the Tea Party compare to those of other non-Tea Party aligned Republicans. The results must be sobering to the establishment GOP-types like Karl Rove and Eric Cantor trying to re-brand the party as slightly right-of-sane.
First, as the authors point out, Tea Party members and supporters now constitute a majority of the current Republican Party, not a minority faction. Their study finds that two-thirds of Republican identifiers strongly support or support the Tea Party, slightly higher than the roughly half of Republicans who say they support the Tea Party in other public polling from NBC/Wall Street Journal.
Second, Tea Party supporters are much more politically active than other Republicans:
For example, in 2008 Tea Party Republicans performed 1.42 activities for the presidential and congressional tickets on average, compared with only .41 activities by non-Tea Party Republicans. In 2010, with only congressional races at the national level, Tea Party Republicans performed on average 0.68 activities versus only 0.12 by non-Tea Party Republicans. Tea Party supporters are responsible for almost all of the total campaign activity performed by party supporters on the Republican side.
Third, on every contentious issue from reducing environmental regulations and repealing Obamacare to taxes and even banning abortion, Tea Party supporters are far more right-wing than other Republicans. In fact, the authors of this study find that on some issues — “imports, abolishing the Department of Education, giving vouchers, and environmental regulation” — the ideological positions of non-Tea Party Republicans are actually closer to those of Democrats than they are to Tea Party Republicans. On top of these policy positions, Tea Party Republicans also reported much more favorable attitudes towards eccentric and extremist 2012 presidential candidates such as Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum than non-Tea Party Republicans, who viewed these candidates negatively.
You can see why this is likely to cause problems in a nation that voted twice to elect Barack Obama. When you look at what the most active and passionate members of the Republican Party want in terms of policy and candidates, they are way outside of the mainstream of the political opinions of the rising majority of Americans who determine national elections.