Tea Party Members See Declining Support in Congress, Poll Shows

A recent Pew Research Center poll found negative assessments of congressional Tea Party members' impact have increased by 11 percentage points since January, with most of the increase among Democrats and Independents. Tea Party Republican intransigence during the debt ceiling debate may explain the decline.

The poll, conducted August 4-7 in conjunction with The Washington Post, asked 1,001 American adults, “Have members of Congress who support the Tea Party had a mostly positive effect, mostly negative effect, or not much of an effect?”

Twenty-nine percent of respondents replied “mostly negative,” an 11-point increase since January when only 18 percent of respondents gave the same answer.

The most common answer was “not much effect.” Thirty-five percent of respondents gave the same response in August while 39 percent of respondents provided that answer in January.

Those who think that Tea Party members in Congress have had a mostly positive effect decreased from 27 percent in January to 22 percent in August.

Republicans who view Tea Party members' impact in Congress negatively remained stable. Both Democrats and independents drove the change in negative responses.

In January, 30 percent of Democrats had negative assessments of congressional Tea Party members' impact. By August, that number had risen to 49 percent, a 19-percentage point gain. Among independents, there was a 14-percentage point gain, from 14 percent to 28 percent.

Interestingly, the poll does not ask why respondents hold these perceptions, but the increase in negative views is likely related to the debt ceiling debate. Many of the Tea Party members in Congress took a firm stance on raising taxes and demanding spending cuts, thus showing an unwillingness to negotiate a compromise with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling. Some, such as presidential candidates Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), said they would not vote to increase the debt ceiling under any circumstances. Some Tea Party members even voted against a bill sponsored by their own party leaders.

Members of Congress who associate themselves with the Tea Party were split on the bill that eventually raised the debt ceiling. Some voted in favor and others opposed it. Yet, the perception that Tea Party members are unwilling to work with other members of Congress, even in their own party, to pass important pieces of legislation likely remains an issue for voters, at least the ones surveyed for this poll.

The poll's sampling error is +/- 4 percent for the total sample, +/- 7.5 percent for Republicans, +/- 7 percent for Democrats, and +/- 6.5 percent for independents.

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