Monday, April 20, 2009

What Was the Impact of the Tea Bag Protests?

Last week, conservative protesters caught national attention on Tax Day for Tea Party - or Tea Bag - protests. Approximately 300,000 people poured into the streets to sound off their opinions on current fiscal policy.

But how representative were they of the average American?

According to a Gallup poll conducted before the protests, views of personal income taxes are among the most positive since 1956. 48% of respondents said the taxes they paid this year were "about right" and only 46% said the taxes they paid this year were "too high".

Additionally, 61% of respondents said the taxes they are paying this year is “fair” - a figure that is consistent with the past several years.

Answers to both questions fell along predictable partisan lines, and respondents who had an income of $75,000 or more last year were more likely to say their taxes were “too high”.

Yet the concern for high government spending we saw in the Tea Party protests does seem to resonate with more Americans. Another recent Gallup poll finds that 55% of Americans believe Obama’s proposals to stimulate the economy call for “too much” government spending.

But here’s where the responses get interesting. The question of government spending was asked to a random sample of half of the respondents. The other half was asked if they believed Obama’s proposal called for too much expansion of government power. These were the results.

And overall, 53% of respondents said they approve of the way the government has responded to the economic crisis, while only 44% say they disapprove.

And while the Tea Baggers were deriding President Obama as a “socialist” in hundreds of cities, a third Gallup poll shows the American people feel overwhelmingly confident in his positions on the economy.

It would certainly appear that the Tea Baggers were only representing about 29% of Americans.

But will the demonstrations change the average American’s mind?

So far the change in public perception over Obama’s fiscal policy is yet to be seen - but the approval ratings have not really changed since Tax Day.

From April 10-13 the approval rating was 62% and the disapproval rating was 29%. The latest numbers from the graph were collected from April 17-19. The Rasmussen Obama Approval Index (which has consistently more conservative estimates) seems to confirm this lack of change.

Yet it would be negligent to say that the Tea Party protests had no great significance. Although it may not have changed any public opinion (as these things usually don’t) it has been an opportunity for the conservative base to get excited again. Republicans will want to capitalize on this excitement and use it to boost fundraising and strengthen volunteer networks.

And that might just have a big effect in 2010.

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