Some members of the "tea party" have struck back at media bias against the grass-roots political movement and critics who derisively dismiss the group as violent "hicks," opportunists, "teabaggers" or worse.
"We decided to learn what tea party leaders are up to in the old-fashioned way. We asked them. We met in person with leaders from 38 states, we collected survey data from 49 leaders," said Eric O'Keefe, chairman and CEO of the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance, a nonprofit group that espouses free-market principles.
The group on Tuesday released a survey of its findings that revealed that tea party activists are neither "political junkies or crusty right-wing extremists." Almost half the respondents had never been involved with politics prior to 2009.
Yes, they are angry, the survey found.
But the majority also has a strong desire to "stand up for my beliefs," with 90 percent citing that motivation as "very important." Another 70 percent hoped that they had "a positive impact on the country," along with clout in the polling booth: 84 percent said "to influence elections" was also very important to them.
Few want to break out as a solo entity: Eight-out-of-10 are not interested in forming a third political party; 62 percent, in fact, said they were Republicans and 28 percent were independents. Just one-in-10 declared they belonged to the "Tea Party."
The majority did not sully the Republican Party: 56 percent disagreed with the idea that it was "the Party of No."
The research also revealed the strong emotional underpinnings of the young movement, which many say began on Feb. 17, 2009, when CNBC reporter Rick Santelli — live and on camera — hollered from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade that he "had had enough" of federal bailouts and shoddy fiscal policy.
All of the respondents cited a "boiling point" moment when they felt angst, anger or frustration, sparked by a negative reaction to big government, increased federal spending and other political or policy influences.
The survey found that "all" the tea party leaders were deeply concerned about future generations of America and they simply wanted to "live without regret," and feel empowered, hopeful and proud — all descriptors gleaned from the actual research. The analysis went so far as to create a "hierarchical value map" of the typical tea party participant, complete with resulting consequences and attributes.
Sarah Palin is still the respondents' presidential candidate of choice, with 36 percent of the respondents saying they would support Mrs. Palin in 2012. Mitt Romney was next in popularity, garnering 27 percent of the support, followed by Mike Huckabee at 15 percent. Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal each got 12 percent of the support.
"We live at a historic juncture," said Mr. O'Keefe. "Tea party leaders have felt compelled to take a leading role in the debate. They just might be the earlier adopters of a new approach to citizen engagement in our political system."
Read the complete report, "The Early Adopters: Reading the Tea Leaves," at www.samadamsalliance.org.
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