Pew Research Center : Trump’s Staunch GOP Supporters Have Roots in the Tea Party

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Supporters listen as President Trump speaks at an April 27 rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The FINANCIAL — A decade after the tea party emerged as a political force, its former supporters are some of Donald Trump’s most stalwart Republican supporters, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center panel surveys from 2014 through 2018.

Republicans who had positive views of the tea party movement in 2014 or 2015 were among Trump’s most enthusiastic backers during the 2016 campaign. And, unlike Republicans who had mixed or negative opinions of the tea party, they continued to have very positive feelings about Trump through his first year as president.

At the height of the tea party, in 2010, about half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they agreed with the movement, with roughly a third of Republicans continuing to say this over the next several years.

Leveraging the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel (ATP), this analysis explores the relationship between individual Republicans’ attitudes about the tea party several years ago – from surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015 – and their views about the GOP and Donald Trump through 2018, the last time this series of questions was asked of the same respondents (see Methodology for details). An expanded version is being presented at the 2019 conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

In February 2018, those who had been Republican tea party supporters gave Trump an average rating of 78 on a 0-100 “feeling thermometer,” while Trump’s rating averaged 59 degrees among those Republicans who had no opinion of the tea party and was a much chillier 53 degrees among those who disagreed with the tea party. (Across all Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015, 34% of Republicans and Republican leaners said they agreed with the tea party and just 11% disagreed, while the largest share – 53% – expressed no opinion.)

A gap in views of Trump between tea party supporters and those who disagreed with the movement was evident throughout 2016, both during the primaries and following the general election. That gap widened over the first year of Trump’s presidency. Although views of Trump grew more positive in each of these groups following his victory, there was no change in former tea party supporters’ views of Trump between November 2016 and early 2018. Meanwhile, Trump’s ratings among those who disagreed with the tea party or had no opinion moved in a more negative direction over this period.

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