The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is getting attention for one rather unusual finding: that the right-wing Tea Party movement is more popular than either the Democratic or Republican parties. The point was made on MSNBC's First Read website and on the channel's Morning Joe program this morning (12/17/09).
Don't buy it.
The MSNBC headline– sure to be repeated everywhere on Fox News today– is straight-forward: "Tea Party More Popular Than Dems, GOP." The numbers tell you that Republicans are viewed positively by 28 percent of the public, the Democrats are at 35 percent, whilethe Tea Party is at 41 percent.
But look at the poll a little more closely. The first thing to know is that most people don't know what the Tea Party movement is–25 percent said they "know very little," 23 percent "know nothing at all." So the question that elicited the 41 percent approval mark had to give people some idea of what it's about. And NBC's poll question offered a remarkably upbeat description:
As you may know, this year saw the start of something known as the Tea Party movement. In this movement, citizens, most of whom are conservatives, participated in demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and other cities, protesting government spending, the economic stimulus package and any type of tax increases. From what you know about this movement, is your opinion of it very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or very negative? If you do not know enough to have an opinion, please say so.
In other words, the "no-tax-hike, responsible spending" party that you've never heard of is a little bitpopular.