The tea party may have won Republicans the House of Representatives in 2010, but in 2012 it’s looking like it could help Democrats retain the White House.
Now nearly three years old, the tea party has fallen out of favor with Americans, and Democrats are prepared to use it against Republicans in this year’s elections.
A recent Fox News poll showed just 30 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the tea party, compared with 51 percent who viewed it unfavorably.
A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll may be more illustrative though. It showed Americans were more evenly split on the tea party, with 44 percent supporting it and 43 percent opposing it.
But just 15 percent of Americans supported the tea party “strongly,” while 26 percent were “strongly” opposed to it.
That suggests that opposition to the tea party is more strident than the tea party itself, which means the movement may be doing the GOP more harm than good.
The numbers are similar to the ones that were seen during the health-care debate, when both sides had about the same number of supporters, but the opponents were much more motivated.
In addition, the fervor and enthusiasm spurred by the tea party in 2010 appears to have dissipated, with no major tea party rallies taking place this year and fewer Republican candidates latching on to the label. On the presidential campaign trail, the tea party is rarely mentioned.
In contrast, Democrats are starting to wield the tea party label as a tool in their campaigns.
“I’m Bill Pascrell, and this is why I’m running: To stop the tea party,” the Democratic congressman from New Jersey said in a new ad.
The tea party also is being used against Reps. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.), two stalwart tea partiers in tough districts for the GOP, and was used in ads run by special-election-winning Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) this year.
Democrats say the issue works for them as they continue to define a Republican Party whose brand is already struggling.
“It’s no longer viewed as a populist, grass-roots organization, but a dangerous group with extremist views that don’t reflect the mainstream values of America’s middle class,” Democratic media strategist John Lapp said.
The tea party was mostly a blessing for Republicans in 2010.
Some less-electable tea party candidates beat Republican establishment candidates in primaries and went on to defeat in the general election, but on the whole the tea party spurred enthusiasm against President Barack Obama and helped Republicans overcome an emerging problem with their own brand, a problem that persists today.
The Washington Post/ABC poll showed just 40 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, a new low.