Anyone For Tea?

Last week brought us tax day, and for some that meant standing in long lines at the post office scrambling to submit returns on time, while for others it meant going out to tea. Yes, tens of thousands of protestors staged “tea parties” around the country last Wednesday to demonstrate their angst over taxes, government spending, and the bailouts. And, Public Opinion Strategies’ latest national survey of voters* shows that a solid majority (59%) say they are sympathetic to the goals and objectives of these “tea party” protests.

Critics and non-believers decried the protests as trivial and wrote them off as a weak attempt by Republicans and conservatives to make some noise. But, not only do the numbers who turned out for tea last week belie that claim, so too does this recent data showing that more than two-thirds of the country has seen, read, or heard “a lot” (34%) or “some” (34%) about the “tea party” protests.

While Republicans are clearly the most sympathetic to the cause (80%), consider this – 56% of Independents say they are sympathetic, and Democrats are fairly evenly divided with 42% saying they are sympathetic and 48% saying they are not sympathetic. So it seems this cause has broader appeal than just the core GOP loyalists.

Interestingly, while younger voters tend to be the activists among us, the tea parties garner more sympathy from older voters. Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters age 45 or older say they are sympathetic compared to 52% of voters age 18-44. Maybe older voters are just more fed up because they’ve paid more in taxes than their younger counterparts?  What you may find less surprising is the gender gap – 64% of men compared to 55% of women are sympathetic to the cause.

So what is it that these folks are most concerned about? Among the 59% who are sympathetic to the goals and objectives of the protests 31% say it’s the possibility their taxes could go up while six-in-ten (59%) say it’s the increased government spending and the national debt. Republicans and Independents are more concerned about the spending (66% and 58% respectively), while Democrats are divided again – 42% say taxes, 47% say spending.

While the “tea parties” may have been mostly organized by Republican or conservative groups across the country, and the whistle of the kettle was like a songbird to hardcore fiscal conservatives, there’s no doubt the underlying cause and concerns have tapped into a type of mainstream “pitchfork populism” that the Republican Party would do well to talk about more.

*Data from a national survey of N=800 voters, conducted April 19-21, 2009. Margin of error +3.5%