CNN has a new poll out showing their highest-ever level of unfavorable views for the Tea Party movement. According to the poll, 47 percent of Americans now have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party, as compared to 32 percent with a favorable one.
Let’s keep this simple: is the poll some sort of outlier or part of a trend?
In the chart below, I’ve plotted all polls from the PollingReport.com database that asked people for their impressions on the Tea Party, and then plotted a smoothed regression line on top of them. Favorable or positive views are shown in blue; unfavorable or negative ones in red.
The trend looks reasonably clear: unfavorable views are on the rise. Although the CNN poll may have exaggerated them slightly, they now register at about 44 percent, according to the trendline.
It’s not clear, on the other hand, that favorable views are decreasing; they’ve never been much higher than the low 30s, and that’s roughly where they remain today. Instead, this is almost certainly a case of Americans who had ambivalent views about the Tea Party before now coming to a more negative impression.
It’s also not obvious that this is anything especially new; unfavorable views have probably been increasing to some extent over the course of the past 15 months or so.
If you squint your eyes and stare at the chart for long enough, you can argue that the rate of increase has been more rapid since roughly the 1st of the year — which could coincide with a post-midterm hangover, the Tucson shootings, or some combination thereof — but the data is not quite robust enough to provide strong evidence for that conclusion.
I’ve long been of the view that the Tea Party, despite nominating poor candidates in a couple of key races, was a significant net positive for the G.O.P. in 2010, both because it contributed to the “enthusiasm gap” and because it helped an unpopular Republican Party to re-brand itself in never-out-of-style conservative draping. But if the Tea Party ain’t over yet, the point in time at which it was an electoral asset for Republicans soon may be.