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OUR OPINION: Tea party may be down, but it’s not out

Our Opinion

A Gallup poll conducted earlier this year showed that roughly four in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents consider themselves supporters of the tea party. That’s down from six in 10 in 2010.

Another poll, by CBS, found that only 15 percent of Americans overall are supporters of the tea party. It’s the lowest figure since CBS began tracking the party in 2010. And from 2009 to 2012, the number of tea party chapters across the country fell from approximately 1,000 to 600, according to a study conducted by a Harvard professor.

So, the tea party is flailing, and catching its last breath? Not necessarily, although it’s apparent that support for the ultra-Republican faction is waning.

The basic ideals of the tea party do resonate with many Americans. Essentially, tea partiers prefer smaller government, lower taxes and limits to government spending.

But the problem is the group has become associated with a certain degree of radicalism, and that doesn’t endear it to many Americans. Even the Republican Party sometimes struggles to give its full support to tea party candidates, and when that happens, how can tea partiers expect to win national or even statewide elections?

After all, the last GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was far from a tea party Republican. True, Romney lost. But Boston magazine reported after the election that Barack Obama beat Romney 81 percent to 18 percent on the question of which candidate “cares about people like me.” Tea party candidates haven’t shown much ability to close that gap.

America is still roughly a 50/50 nation and that doesn’t bode well for far-right candidates, who need a certain amount of support from centrists, independents and moderate Democrats to get elected. And further weakening the tea party is some simple political arithmetic: Fewer chapters nationwide plus less support among Republicans and moderate independents equals less opportunity and reduced influence.

Still, it would be wise to not count out the tea party. It remains an aggressive voting bloc, and its loud mantra regarding money – lower taxes and reducing the federal debt, for instance – still appeals to many Americans.