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Tea Party “revelations”: will liberals stop obsessing now?

Photo by Sage Ross

Today is "Tax Day", April 15th, the deadline for filing federal income taxes. Predictably, the Tea Party organized gatherings in Washington, D.C. and other cities to protest excessive taxation and spending.

And so it was perfect timing for the New York Times to publish the findings of its poll about the composition of the Tea Party. The survey found that only a small minority - 18 percent - identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, and that they tend to be "Republican, white, male, married and older than 45". Tea-partiers are also generally more educated and have higher incomes. They are more likely than average Americans to have an unfavorable view of President Obama (84 percent vs. 33 percent); disapprove of Congress (96 percent vs. 73 percent) and rate the national economy as bad (93 percent vs. 77 percent).

In other areas, however, Tea Party backers were in line with typical American views: most describe the amount they paid in taxes as "fair", most send their kids to public schools, and a plurality do not believe Sarah Palin is qualified to be president. And they are also contradictory: despite tea-partiers' anti-government rhetoric, a majority think that Social Security and Medicare are worthwhile.

The media picking up the poll findings generally treated them as surprising revelations. The survey is probably the most detailed analysis of the demographics and attitudes of the Tea Party, but anyone could have easily reached the conclusion that they were small in number and consisted of generally older Americans just by looking - as I did (here, here and here). The media has been exaggerating the strength and influence of the Tea Party, but today's poll did not lead to any self-criticism about the tons of coverage devoted to this amorphous group.

Liberals in the media seemed to respond with ill-concealed glee to the apparent conclusion from the poll that tea-partiers were out-of-step with the average American. But they did not question why they have been obsessing about such a small group. And it remains to be seen whether they can give up this obsession.

It's clear that the Tea Party expresses more of a general discontent than a specific counter-ideology or alternative policy strategy. Yet this discontent with politics is shared by a wider group than the tea-partiers. In mocking the Tea Party, Democrats at best ignore the underlying discontent, and arguably exacerbate it. They may not have the last laugh.

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