Brewing a Weaker Tea?

The Tea Party played a much-diminished role in the 2012 Republican convention, no matter how you measure it.

This analysis was performed by Kyrene Gibb, a student research fellow at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, in collaboration with CSED faculty. The writing is mostly hers. Inquiries about this research should come to Kelly Patterson or Quin Monson.

In 2010, Tea Party supporters dominated the Utah Republican convention. About 86% of the 2010 delegates expressed a favorable attitude toward the Tea Party movement. Fast forward two years. Now only 57% of Republican delegates express a favorable impression of the Tea Party—a decline of 28 percentage points.

The figure below breaks down the shift in sentiment toward the Tea Party along all of the categories in the question. Although there is still a large cohort of Republican delegates that has “Somewhat Favorable” attitudes toward the Tea Party, the decrease in “Strongly Favorable” is striking.

Percent of Republican delegates with a favorable opinion of the Tea Party

This decline carries over to active Tea Party support as well. As the figure below shows, in 2010 more than four in ten Republican delegates reported that they were “active” Tea Party supporters (43%). In 2012, this group of active supporters declines to 19% – less than half of what it was just two years earlier. Similarly, those who donated money declined from 11% to 5% and those who attended a rally declined from 26% to 10%.

Percent of Republican Delegates who consider themselves "active supporters" of the Tea Party

Tea Party support among delegates played a large role in three-term Senator Bob Bennett’s loss to Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater at the 2010 GOP convention.1 Bennett’s favorability among Tea Party supporters was about 28%, while Bridgewater’s favorability was 77% and Lee’s was about 80%. Of the 43% of delegates who considered themselves “active” Tea Party supporters, 92% voted for Lee or Bridgewater at the convention. It’s no wonder that Bennett lost. The only group with a majority that supported Bennett in 2010 was the 14% of delegates who had an unfavorable view of the Tea Party.

2012 was quite different for Senator Orrin Hatch. On the final ballot at the convention, 65% of active Tea Party supporters voted for Dan Liljenquist compared to 34% for Orrin Hatch – a 31 percentage point gap. This sounds like a big loss for Senator Hatch until you consider that the gap for Bob Bennett was 83 percentage points among active Tea Party supporters (92% for Lee/Bridgewater vs. 8% for Bennett). While Senator Hatch didn’t get a majority of support from active Tea Party supporters, he did manage to close the gap substantially. Similarly, Hatch’s favorability among Tea Party supporters was 50% – 19 percentage points lower than his support among non-Tea Party supporters (but much better than Bennett’s 28% in 2010).

Thus, the Tea Party played a much-diminished role in the 2012 Republican convention, no matter how you measure it. Why were Tea Party supporters so few in number at this year’s convention compared to two years ago? This year, many groups and candidates, including Hatch’s campaign, the Republican Party, and even the LDS Church targeted citizens to attend their caucuses. This increased turnout may have diluted the influence of Tea Party supporters. We’ll tackle the mobilization question in a future blog post.

Notes about survey methodology

This analysis is based on the Utah Voter Poll survey of Utah GOP Convention delegates administered in two waves in both 2010 and 2012, pre-convention (May 3-7, 2010 and April 17-21, 2012) and post-convention (May 12-19, 2010 and April 30- May 10, 2012). The 2010 pre-convention wave of the survey had 1,331 complete responses, for a response rate of 40.7% and a margin of error of about ± 2.11%. The 2012 pre-convention wave of the survey had 1,241 complete responses, for a response rate of 42.7% and a margin of error of about ± 2.3%.

To measure sentiment toward the Tea Party in both years, delegates were asked: “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of the political movement known as the Tea Party?” Response options were displayed on a five-point favorability scale, shown in the figures above.

In both years, delegates were asked: “Do you consider yourself to be an active supporter of the Tea Party movement, or not?” Possible responses were “Yes,” “No,” or “Don’t Know/No opinion.”

To the delegates that responded “yes” to the previous question, the following question was asked: “Please indicate whether or not you have done each of the following: Given money to any organization associated with the Tea Party movement, Attended a rally or meeting held by any organization associated with the Tea Party movement, Took any other active steps to support the Tea Party movement, either in person or through email or on the internet.” Response options were “Yes” or “No.”

The 2010 candidate favorability question was worded as follows: “Please rate how favorably you feel toward each of the U.S. Senate candidates on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is completely unfavorable, 100 is completely favorable, and 50 is neutral. To rate each candidate place your cursor on the slider bar at the midpoint for each candidate and drag the indicator to the desired position. A number will appear to the right of the slider bar to show you where you are at on the scale.”

The 2012 candidate favorability question was worded as follows: “Please rate how favorably you feel toward each of the following politicians on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is completely unfavorable, 100 is completely favorable, and 50 is neutral. To rate each candidate place your cursor on the slider bar at the midpoint for each candidate and drag the indicator to the desired position. A number will appear to the right of the slider bar to show you where you are at on the scale.”

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About Quin Monson

Quin Monson is Associate Professor of Political Science and a Senior Scholar with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
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