Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party

I’m endlessly confused (and curious) about trying to understand public opinion and where it’s heading (see some of the posts on my US Data page), but it usually seems clear to me that Americans are becoming more liberal on at least social issues. Issues of the government and economy are a bit more complex. When I listen to the conservative rhetoric about fiscal conservatism, I’m left deeply confused considering how it compares to the Republican record. I really don’t see a clear connection between fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservatism. I’ve even argued that liberals are the new ‘fiscal conservatives’, although I don’t mean to dismiss the few fiscally responsible conservatives such as Ron Paul.

The main confusion is that the data I’ve seen shows that most Americans identify as conservative. I even think I’ve seen data showing the number of self-identified conservatives has been growing. But on many specific issues most Americans are becoming more liberal and progressive. I suppose there are many ways to make sense of this seemingly contradictory data. First, it’s not really contradictory. Labels of self-identification don’t necessarily have any relationship to the actual social and political positions people hold. Labels such as liberal and conservative are relative. Since the data shows the country moving left, it wouldn’t be surprising if most Americans were to some extent aware of this trend. So, maybe most Americans feel ‘conservative’ relative to the increasingly liberal direction the country is going in. However, compared to the conservatism of the past, most Americans today are definitely liberal.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing yet another post about this topic is because I’ve come across new data that confirms the previous data I’ve seen. Here is the new data:

I came across this polling data from this site:;jsessionid=9F4259A9B9DBBAC1A619FD723F6ECE38?diaryId=20244

The poll looked at the 2008 voters and looked at the different demographics.

“We wanted to learn more about the views of the black, youth, and low-income voters who overwhelmingly participated in 2008 election,” said Lorraine C. Minnite, director of research for Project Vote. “These voters represent roughly a third of the electorate, they will play an increasingly important role in American politics, and they fundamentally believe in a government that does more, not less. Yet their voices are largely ignored, and their views are not being represented.”

Instead, the new report says, over the past two years the opinions and values of these populations have been drowned out by the anti-government rhetoric of more affluent, older, and mostly white Americans who have organized under the “Tea Party” banner.

“The winning coalition in 2008 included an unprecedented number of young voters, who were more racially diverse than any cohort in the history of American politics and more progressive than any young voters since the 1960s,” said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement). “The new poll from Project Vote provides essential information about these young people’s hopes and beliefs in 2010.”

That verifies other data about the Tea Party. The average Tea Party supporter is slightly more white, older, and wealthier than the average American (and so it’s not surprising that the ). But the biggest difference is seen in the positions they advocate. Ignoring the demographic data, Tea Party supporters simply don’t represent the views of the average American.

The poll finds that the policy preferences of these three voting constituencies are far more closely aligned with the views of average Americans—represented by the poll’s national sample—than the minority views of the self-identified Tea Party sympathizers.

Most helpful from the second link is the summary of the specific views supported by majorities of black, young, and low-income voters:

  • Increasing taxes on investment income, increasing social security taxes on incomes greater than $107,000, and ending combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as a means to reduce the deficit.
  • Spending money on infrastructure, as do two-thirds of all 2008 voters.
  • Spending the same or more on income support programs such as Food Stamps for less well-off Americans. Two-thirds of Tea Party sympathizers support spending less.
  • Tea Party sympathizers, while almost universally dissatisfied with the way the country is going, report they themselves are doing very well: more than three out of four say their personal economic situation is fairly good or very good.
  • Meanwhile, one in five young voters, and nearly two out of five black voters and low-income voters, reported that there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food for their families. Just over one in 20 Tea Party supporters said the same.
  • Strong majorities of black voters, young voters, and low-income voters agree that government should work to provide for the needs of all citizens. Half of all voters agreed with that sentiment, while only one in five Tea Party sympathizers agreed.
  • Together, the three “surge” groups represent a larger portion of the electorate than those who self-identify with the Tea Party.

At the same time, I came across some other data:

The first thing I noticed is that mostly Republicans identify with the Tea Party. No surprise there, but what was rather telling is that most Independents identify with the Democratic Party, more than identify with the Tea Party. So, the Tea Party can’t honestly claim to be the party of Independents.

The one area that the American public leans slightly conservative is in being less supportive of compromise. This piece of data is significant in another context because it substantiates the claim that Democrats are in reality more bipartisan than Republicans (which I spoke about in a previous post: )

One of the areas where the liberal view predominates is the American public’s view on tax cuts for the rich. Most Americans state they want the tax cuts for the rich to end. This new data shows that most Americans don’t think ending the tax cuts for the rich will hurt the economy. They either think it will help or that it will have no impact at all. According to this data, Republicans are the only demographic that has a majority opinion of it hurting the economy. However, going by the various polls, even the Republicans are split on whether the tax cuts for the rich should end or not.

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