The GOP's Tea Party problem

A new poll shows that the Tea Partiers could be a formidable third option come 2010

By Alex Koppelman
December 8, 2009 2:38AM (UTC)
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Republicans may have been working to co-opt the Tea Parties that have been so popular on the right, but fundamentally the movement always had soem anti-GOP feeling at its core. And while the protests may still end up helping Republicans next year, in part by getting conservative voters, to borrow a phrase, fired up and ready to go, there are some signs that the whole thing could still end up badly for the party.

One of those signs is contained in a poll out Monday from Rasmussen. The pollster asked respondents to imagine that "the Tea party organized itself as a political party," then had them choose between generic Democratic, Republican and Tea Party candidates in their district. Not too surprisingly, the Democratic candidate ended up benefitting from the split, with 36 percent of respondents -- a plurality -- saying they'd vote that way. But in a somewhat shocking result, 23 percent said they'd vote for the Tea Party candidate compared to 18 percent who chose the Republican and 22 percent who said they weren't sure.


When just unaffiliated voters are counted, things are worse for the Republicans: 33 percent chose the Tea Party candidate, 25 percent opted for the Democrat and only 12 percent picked the Republican.

Still, things probably aren't nearly as bad for the Republican Party as this poll would indicate. For one thing, it's hard -- impossible, really -- to imagine the Tea Parties organizing into a single political party in time for next year's midterms. (They can't even keep the protest movement from fracturing.) And polls that ask about third parties always find more support for the third party candidate than he or she ends up with come Election Day.

This is, however, another demonstration of how powerful the Tea Party movement could be in a situation where a moderate Republican's running in a swing district. Call it the Doug Hoffman effect, after the conservative candidate who ended up forcing out the GOP's choice in a Congressional special election held in upstate New York earlier this year.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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