Members of the Republican establishment are fond of treating the Tea Party as an original, organic political phenomenon that is separate from the GOP. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed from February, Karl Rove hailed how the movement “arose spontaneously” and “made an important splash” while warning that the Tea Party and the GOP “are, and should remain, distinct from one another” because “the sum would be less than the parts.” Similarly, early this year, a prominent Tea Party organizer insisted, “We must not allow the Tea Parties and other patriotic grassroots movement to be hijacked by the GOP.”
However, a new Gallup poll illuminates how the Tea Party and the GOP are already closely related because they share virtually the exact same priorities:
The Tea Party movement has been the focus of media attention during the past year, and has had some success in getting its preferred candidates nominated or elected in the 2009-2010 election cycle. However, as Gallup has pointed out, those who describe themselves as Tea Party supporters are in many ways indistinguishable from, and largely a subset of, Republican identifiers more generally.
As a result, Tea Party supporters’ issue concerns are not decidedly different from those of Republican identifiers. The two groups differ only slightly in their views of federal government debt and the size and power of the federal government among the 10 issues tested.
Both Tea Party supporters and Republicans identified the same top three “extremely serious threats” to the U.S. future, and in the same order: “federal government debt,” “terrorism,” and “the size and power of the federal government.” On all 10 issues mentioned by Gallup, the average gap between the Tea Party level of concern and the Republican level of concern was only 3.2 percent. Gallup has also found that 79 percent of Tea Party supporters identify as Republicans, as opposed to only 44 percent of the general population, leading Gallup to suggest that “the Tea Party movement is more a rebranding of core Republicanism than a new or distinct entity on the American political scene.”
As Greg Sargent argues at the Plum Line, “The Tea Party movement gets a disproportionate share of media attention because of all the funny costumes, Hitler references, and fantasizing about armed revolution. But it’s hard to see what’s distinctive about the Tea Partiers’ actual political views and priorities.”