The Party Line
4:13 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

Safe Districts Embolden Bloc Of GOP House Members

J. Michael Bitzer

With the continued budgetary and debt crises consuming the country and the nation’s business, a deeper look into the warring camps may be helpful to understand their outlook and how much actual support each side may have.

Since their arrival on the political scene in 2009 and most importantly in 2010 election, the Tea Party has become the driving force within the Republican Party over the past two election cycles, especially in Congressional elections.

The defunding of Obamacare continues as a hallmark issue of the Tea Party; with the Ted Cruz 13 21-hour talk-a-thon and the government shutdown, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has active and vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, most notably within a minority faction of the House GOP Conference. 

Recently, 81 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter, authored by North Carolina Representative Mark Meadows, presenting an ultimatum to their leadership: “we urge you to affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”

In looking at these 81 Republicans, the vast majority of them (68 of them, or 83% of the signatories) come from ‘safe districts,’ defined as being districts where they received 55% or more of the vote in the last election. For example, Rep. Meadows earned 57% of the vote in 2012.

For the remaining 13 Republican signatories, they won with an average of 51% of their 2012 district vote, with four of them getting 50% or below.

Most analysts have contended that these Tea Party aligned Republicans are representing their hard-right conservative constituents, to what is perceived as the detriment of the rest of the country.  In fact, the Tea Party movement is smaller than most believe, especially in light of their vocal influence on members of Congress.

Through the use of an analysis website of 2012 American National Election Studies survey, only 19% of surveyed voters supported the Tea Party, while 32% opposed the movement. More than half of the electorate didn’t support or oppose the Tea Party.

Among strong Tea Party supporters in the 2012 general election, 84% of them opposed the Affordable Care Act. Among those strongly opposed to the Tea Party, 75% favored the law that has become known as Obamacare.

Not surprisingly, the strong Tea Party supporters voted 87% for Romney, while an almost identical number (85%) of Tea Party opponents voted for Obama. 

Analyzing by partisan affiliation and strength (strong to weak to independent party adherents) finds the real base of support for the Tea Party.

In 2012, over half of self-identified ‘strong Republicans’ supported the Tea Party, while 60% of ‘strong Democrats’ opposed the movement.  Interesting, 70% of the moderate middle of independents didn’t have an opinion one-way or the other on the Tea Party.

But with the current stalemate worsening as the country nears the debt ceiling, public opinion has dramatically swung against Republicans and their hardline stance.  In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24% of respondents approved of the Republican Party, while only 21% approved of the Tea Party movement.

The problem may be that Tea Party Republicans only hear from their constituents, and that these voices reinforce the hard-right views of standing on principles over pragmatic governance.  In a recent Pew Research Center poll, only 18% of Republicans say the Tea Party is getting too much attention; 53% of Republican voters wanted lawmakers “to do what they could to make the health care law fail.”

And while they are listening to their base of supporters, Tea Party aligned Congressional Republicans find their appeals falling on deaf ears with the rest of the nation. 

But for these Tea Party-backed members of Congress, the voices that really matter are those singing the same tune.