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The realities of populist outrage

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Truth: wasted on the young.
  • Image via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Truth is wasted on the young.

Seems that, for all their media sexiness, the tea baggers may not be as powerful as we thought.

Despite all the noisy hype about tea party discontent, Hoosier voters in yesterday's primaries cast their lots along rather conventional lines.

Indiana Republicans turned out at their highest level in 10 years. But they didn't exactly throw the bums out. They voted for incumbents like 14-term House Republican Dan Burton, despite competition by no fewer than six challengers.

Meanwhile, results in Indiana's US Senate Republican primary said it all. As reported by AP:

[Dan] Coats, 66, retired from the Senate in 1998, has worked as a lobbyist and was U.S. ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush. He overcame spirited challenges from four, including state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite who was endorsed by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and former Rep. John Hostettler, who had the support of one-time presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

So Indiana Republicans choose a former Senator and longtime Washington hack who worked under G.W. — whom, we're told, engenders nearly as much tea party outrage these days as Barack Obama.

Doesn't get much more establishment than that, does it?

If yesterdays results seem surprising, they shouldn't. It's only because the noise created by the tea party movement is not consummate with its level of support. The noise is only consummate with the level of attention it receives from the media (not that I'm not guilty this very minute as I write this post).

In reality, the tea party movement isn't nearly as big as it seems. A new Washington Post-ABC poll, released today, shows that only 2% of polled Americans say they are active tea party participants. Furthermore, 24 percent of registered voters say they would be inclined to oppose a candidate associated with the tea party, while only 15 percent say they would support him.

Furthermore, "among all Americans, 34 percent say the more they hear about the Tea Party
the more they like it," the poll continues, "but 43 percent say the more they hear the less they like it."

Meanwhile, "nearly three in ten" Americans "see racial prejudice as underlying the tea party."

Before we get too carried away, it's worth recognizing that 34 percent is still a lot. And, although only 2 percent of Americans call themselves "active" tea party members, a full 27 percent say they "support the Tea Party," among whom 17 percent say they back it “strongly.” Those are significant numbers. And those who want to characterize tea party outrage as being mostly manufactured are either living in denial, or have an axe to grind themselves.

But what we are seeing is that, when push comes to shove, the anti-establishment attitude we've heard so much about may not be as pervasive — or politically salient — as we thought.

What's clear, however, is that Democrats may be in big trouble, even if establishment Republicans are not.

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