Political Identification

The GOP Divided: Tea Party Supporters and the Republican Party


Besides a recent CNN poll and some academic analysis, little has been done to study the differences between Tea Party supporters and non-Tea Party Republicans. Yet many still make the claim that the Tea Party movement is in fact the GOP base, more conservative and more Republican. Reason-Rupe survey data reveal demographic similarities between Tea Party supporters and non-Tea Party Republicans, but also differences in their level of commitment to fiscal conservatism, approach to politics, and partisan identification.

Commitment to Fiscal Conservatism 

Overall, Tea Party supporters and non-Tea Party Republicans are quite similar on economic issues, with Tea Partiers having slightly more intense preferences. For example 86 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans favor a government spending-cap compared to 95 percent of Tea Partiers. Seventy six percent of non-Tea Party Republicans favor a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, compared to 87 percent of Tea Partiers. Sixty seven percent of non-Tea Party Republicans believe cutting spending will mostly help the economy, compared to 76 percent of Tea Party supporters. Tea Partiers are less likely to believe the government would keep its promise to use increased tax revenues to reduce the deficit, with 81 percent of Tea Partiers believing that the government would use increased tax revenues to spend on new programs compared to 68 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans.

However, Tea Partiers are more adamant in their opposition to tax hikes. Fifty eight percent of Tea Partiers want to reduce the national deficit with only spending decreases, compared to 46 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans. A majority of Tea Partiers oppose increasing taxes on the wealthy, compared to 57 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans, who would favor such a proposal.


Both groups agree that it is primarily the responsibility of the individual to plan for retirement income (72 percent for both groups) and purchase health insurance in retirement (55 percent and 59 percent for non-Tea Party and Tea Party members, respectively). Both are willing to reduce their Social Security and Medicare benefits if they were guaranteed to receive what they and their employer contributed into the system (69 percent and 65 percent for Social Security, respectively; 66 percent and 67 percent for Medicare, respectively).

However, Tea Party members are far more likely than non-Tea Party Republicans to strongly favor allowing individuals to opt out of Social Security if they choose (53 percent and 38 percent, respectively). The same is true for Medicare, with 51 percent of Tea Partiers favoring strongly compared to 33 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans.


Significant differences between Tea Party supporters and non-Tea Party Republicans emerge over approach to reform. Sixty nine percent of Tea Party supporters favor the Congressional Tea Party Caucus' approach to opposing bills that would increase federal tax revenues, compared to 36 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans. Seventy eight percent of Tea Partiers believe that the Tea Party has had a positive impact on the way Washington D.C. works, compared to 37 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans. Seventy five percent of Tea Partiers would consider voting for a Tea Party presidential candidate running against President Obama and the Republican presidential nominee in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 43 percent among non-Tea Party Republicans.


Non-Tea Party Republicans are slightly more confident that the TSA would prevent a terrorist attack, with 59 percent very or somewhat confident. However, Tea Party supporters are evenly divided with 50 percent very or somewhat confident in the TSA compared to 49 percent who are slightly or not at all confident. Seventy two percent of non-Tea Party Republicans believe the TSA has made air travel safer, compared to 64 percent of Tea Partiers.

Tea Party supporters are substantially more likely to favor replacing TSA personnel with private security screeners, with 61 percent in favor, compared to 44 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans.

Seventy percent of Tea Party supporters believe "we have less personal freedom now" compared to 51 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans. Moreover, 59 percent of Tea Party supporters believe "we have given up too much freedom and privacy in the name of security," compared to 47 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans who agree.


Nearly half of Tea Party supporters are ostensibly de-branded Republicans. Although they may vote Republican, 42 percent refuse to identify with either the Republican or Democratic parties. In comparison, 67 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans self-identify as Republican and 31 percent as Independent. Among Independents who were asked which direction they lean, 97 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans said they were closer to the Republican Party, while only 49 percent of Tea Partiers agreed. Instead, 33 percent of Tea Partiers said they still choose to align with "neither" party.

Nevertheless, 58 percent of Tea Partiers identify as conservative and 20 percent as moderate, compared to 46 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans who identify as conservative and 31 percent as moderate. The allocation of ideological political groups shows more communitarians and liberals among non-Tea Party Republicans, and primarily conservatives and libertarians among Tea Partiers. What communitarians and liberals share in common is greater fiscal liberalism, and what libertarians and conservatives share in common is greater fiscal conservatism. This suggests that not all the religious conservatives are found in the Tea Party. 

Click here for full survey results.

Survey Methods

The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9th-18th 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79%. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent US Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Clickhere for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll's fieldwork. View full methodology.

NEXT: George Kaiser 2009: "There's never been more money shoved out of the government's door."

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  1. Pretty interesting. I would like to see results for social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Also opinions about public service unions.

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