Today's USA Today/Gallup release on the Tea Party is getting a lot of attention, for supposedly showing huge support for including Tea Party views in Congressional debates. Gallup's question wording about "taking the Tea Party into account" seems like a low bar to clear, and likely taps into voters' desire for fairness and cooperation, as opposed to views of the Tea Party itself. In fact, other results from the same survey, and other recent Gallup results, show the Tea Party remains unpopular.
Look at the Gallup question wording: "How important should it be for the Republican leaders in Congress to take into account the objectives and positions of the Tea Party movement when it comes to dealing with problems facing the nation?" As you can see from Gallup's chart, nearly three-fourths of Americans (and even over half of Democrats!) think it's at least "somewhat important" for Republicans to take Tea Party views "into account."
But does this mean there is a new surge of support for the Tea Party? Hardly. The same Gallup poll shows the Tea Party continues to be net unfavorable (39% favorable, 42% unfavorable). And the Gallup trendline shows little movement since March 2010. Further, there's been only a slight widening of the gap between self-identified Tea Party supporters and opponents during the same time period, and overall more consistency than volatility.
And lest you worry that Democrats are now identifying with the Tea Party, only 6% of Dems identify as Tea Party supporters, and only 11% are favorable toward it.
So how do we explain the large numbers that want to see Republicans take Tea Party views into account? I suspect this is more about the question wording than a change in actual views. "Taking views into account" is a much lower bar to clear than, for example, "listen to," "follow," "prioritize," "fight for," or "incorporate." It seems this particular question taps into Americans' basic desire for fairness and cooperation. And cooperation, in fact, is something this recent Marist poll showed voters overwhelmingly want to see in Washington. That "taking into account" Tea Party views is inconsistent with the cooperation Americans want to see is one of the fundamental problems facing Republicans over the next two years.