In an interesting shift of public opinion following the end of the two-week government shutdown, where the US President and Senate refused to accept House bills to fund the government unless they also included provisions to fund Obamacare, the Tea Party faction of the GOP has taken a hit in popularity, though not in the way you might think. Pew Research Center released the results of a poll this week showing, surprisingly, that most of the lost support for the Tea Party has not been amongst the general public, but among establishment and liberal Republicans. On the other hand, the popularity of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), widely regarded as the public face of the Obamacare standoff, has risen among Republicans overall, with only a 1% decline in favourability among non-Tea Party Republicans. Though the popularity of the Tea Party has declined overall among voters in the United States since 2010, the movement is only just beginning to be understood, and continues to surprise people on both sides of the political spectrum. To give context to some of these surprising changes, let’s take a look at three of the more interesting developments regarding Tea Party voters that have come to light this year.
1) Tea Party Voters More Scientifically Literate than Others
In one of the most amusing examples of honest statistical analysis of politics this year, Yale University law professor Dan Kahan analysed the results of a poll for an unrelated study to measure scientific literacy among different voting groups, and the results surprised him. Tea Party voters, he found, were significantly more likely than non-Tea Party voters to have high levels of scientific literacy. In other words, the Tea Party understands and uses science more than Republicans, and more than the general voting population. Kahan made note of his surprise, and moderate embarrassment, on his blog shortly after.
“I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension,” Kahan posted.
“But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the tea party,” the post continues. “All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the ‘paper’ (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused Internet sites like Huffington Post and POLITICO). I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly, I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.”
2) Majority of GOP Shifts toward Libertarianism
As previously reported on The Libertarian an overwhelming majority of Republican voters are turning to libertarianism in everything but name. Polling by Freedom Works this year has revealed that 78% of Republican voters consider themselves fiscally conservative and socially moderate. In a party that has been known to win elections by drumming up conservative social issues like gay marriage and abortion in 1994 and 2004, this sudden and unmistakable decline in support for those causes represents a significant change of opinion toward libertarianism. The leaders of this philosophical shift, such as Ron Paul, Rand Paul (R-KY), and Justin Amash (R-MI), are near universally popular among Tea Party voters, and their efforts to reform the party in this regard deserve serious recognition.
3) Only 41% of Tea Party Voters Consider the Movement Republican
The Tea Party’s efforts to reform the Republican party have not gone unopposed, however. As noted above, most of their decline in popularity this week has been among establishment Republicans, and not the general population. Establishment Republican leaders, such as John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who have held nothing back in their vicious attacks on their younger colleagues, are increasingly being viewed as dinosaurs. Now that McCain has announced his retirement, and Lindsey Graham is likely to be voted out of office in the Republican primary election the GOP of the future belongs to the liberty movement. In perhaps the most shocking development of all, only 41% of self-identified Tea Party voters consider the movement to be a part of the Republican Party. Whether future polls of American voters, the liberty movement, or the libertarian electorate will change to reflect these recent developments, none can say. The Tea Party’s influence is greater than ever, the mainstream GOP is on the way out, and public opinion has only just begun to take notice.