There’s a lot of buzz today about this Rasmussen Reports survey asking voters who they’d back in a three-way race: the Democrats, the Republicans, or a hypothetical “Tea Party.” It’s the latest in a tradition of Rasmussen polls that attempt to find the angry center of American politics. It was Rasmussen, remember, who asked voters back in 2006 whether they’d back a “pro-immigration enforcement” third party candidate in a presidential race. Thirty percent said they would, and therein lies the rationale for a 2012 Lou Dobbs vanity campaign.
This poll finds a sizable chunk of the country–41 percent of Americans–holding a favorable view of “the Tea Party movement. Those numbers break down perfectly in a three-way race, where 36 percent of voters would back the Democrats, 23 percent would back the Tea Party, and only 18 percent would back the Republicans. That makes it seem like this is the conservative movement, cleaved in two. But some sort of ideological screen would be useful here. What does the “Tea Party” stand for? Fiscal conservatism, sure, but a lot of that is only in the context of a recession, with people grasping for economic answers. The anti-immigration surge happened in a similar context, with average voters breaking from party orthodoxy to demand answers to a problem that they didn’t really have ideological answers for.