The poll released just in time for Tax Day says 18 percent of Americans support the tea party, which bloomed last spring as an anti-tax movement. Since then, it's evolved into something larger and more complex, the survey indicates.
As other recent polls have shown, tea partiers tend to be white, male, married and older than 45 and consider themselves "very conservative." They're wealthier and better-educated than average. And, the Times noted, "while most Republicans say they are 'dissatisfied' with Washington, tea party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as 'angry.'"
The "tea" in tea party is often said to stand for "taxed enough already." But in the poll, 52 percent of the movement's supporters said the income tax they're paying this year is fair. Instead of taxes, government spending, health care and "government not representing the people" are their biggest worries, according to the survey. That's in line with a recent Winston Group poll that ranked the economy and jobs as Tea Party activists' main concerns -- the same as for the general population.
Firedoglake's Jon Walker thinks the poll is a sign that the perennial GOP drumbeat for tax cuts "might not resonate" with voters as well as usual this November. Republicans "will probably need to spin tax cuts as somehow the best way to create jobs," Walker predicted, while Democrats could cast tax cuts as "fiscally reckless" in this shaky economy.
While big government is a favorite tea party target, several bloggers were surprised by the results of the poll question about whether the benefits of government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs to taxpayers. Sixty-two percent of tea party supporters said yes. In follow-up interviews, they favored a focus on "waste" instead of slashing the programs.
"Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits. Others could not explain the contradiction," the Times reported.
Liberal pundits like Washington Monthly's Steve Benen seized on a comment by Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif., as evidence that tea partiers are "a confused group of misled people."
"Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security. I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind," White told the Times.
"These folks claim to be motivated by concerns over taxes, but tea partiers tend not to know anything about the subject. ... They claim to hate expensive government programs, except for all the expensive government programs that benefit them and their families," Benen charged.
The fact that tea party demographics skew older might explain some of the response on Medicare and Social Security, said Hot Air's Allahpundit. "Still, the point remains -- even among the most devoutly fiscally conservative populist movement in America, self-interest trumps ideology when it comes to entitlements," the conservative blogger added.
Allahpundit's "favorite narrative-buster" in the poll is this: Tea party backers are less likely than the average American to favor creation of a third political party -- 40 percent compared to 46 percent among all respondents. (Click here for details of survey questions and answers.)
What about Sarah Palin, who's sometimes portrayed as the movement's de facto leader? She's drawn enthusiastic crowds on the Tea Party Express tour, wrapping up Thursday in Washington. Although two-thirds of tea partiers have a favorable view of Palin, 47 percent of those surveyed said she would not be an effective president, and 40 percent said she would.
Tea party backers are much more unified when it comes to the current president. More than 8 in 10 have an unfavorable view of Barack Obama personally, even more disapprove of the job he's doing, and 92 percent said he's moving America toward socialism.
The New York Times report quoted Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retiree in Jacksonville, Fla. "I just feel he's getting away from what America is," Mayhugh said. "He's a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he's a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don't care what he says."
Despite the overwhelming opposition to Obama and the Democratic Congress, the tea party isn't exactly cozying up to the GOP -- or to one of the president's most extreme critics.
It did not invite the top Republicans in the House and Senate to speak at the big Tax Day rally in the nation's capital. And "birther" crusader Orly Taitz's invitation to address a Thursday tea party event in California was yanked at the last minute. Organizers said Taitz -- who's filed multiple suits claiming Obama wasn't really born in the U.S. so he can't be president -- is "not what the tea party is about at this point."