From Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times:
As it turns out, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans "supports" the tea party movement in any respect, and just 4% of all adult Americans have contributed to it or attended one of its events or both. (On any given day, you probably could drum up twice as many people who think the Pentagon is hiding dead aliens in Area 51.)
Of the 18% of all adults who expressed support for the tea party, the overwhelming majority were white (89%), male (59%) Republicans over age 45 (75%) and significantly more affluent and better educated than the majority of Americans. One in five has an annual income greater than $100,000, and 37% have advanced degrees. More than 9 out of 10 think President Obama is pushing the country into "socialism."
The (New York Times/CBS News) survey also found that more than half of the tea party supporters say "the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25% think that the administration favors blacks over whites -- compared with 11% of the general public."
If all this is beginning to have a familiar ring, it's because you've met these guys before: They're the "angry white males" we've been reading about since political strategist-turned-analyst Kevin Phillips first identified them as an electoral presence during Richard Nixon's successful presidential campaign in 1968...
They aren't, however, implacable foes of "big government" or even of taxes. More than half (52%) told the pollsters they think their own "income taxes this year are fair," just 10% less than all American adults. Moreover, a majority told follow-up interviewers that, though they wanted "smaller government," they didn't want cuts in our largest social programs, Social Security and Medicare.
So much for the surge of a new anti-government populism.
What the movement really amounts to is old wine in new skins, a re-branding of the old-fashioned angry white male in a camera-ready package tailored to the demands of the 24-hour cable news cycle.