This headline from Gallup seems like good news, but I don't think it's particularly meaningful:
Tea Party Support Dwindles to Near-Record LowHere's the graph:
As Washington braces for another budget showdown, this time with the threat of defunding the new healthcare law in the mix, the key political force pushing for conservative policies sees diminished popular support. Fewer Americans now describe themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement than did at the height of the movement in 2010, or even at the start of 2012. Today's 22% support nearly matches the record low found two years ago....
Opponents of the Tea Party now outnumber supporters 27% to 22%, which is similar to their edge in 2012....
Fully half of Americans, 51%, currently say they are neither a supporter nor an opponent of the Tea Party, or they have no opinion about it....
Here's why I'm not sure this is meaningful: the tea party is not particularly visible to most people anymore. There aren't a lot of big (or even moderately sized) tea party demonstrations these days. Tea party types aren't shutting down congressional town halls. People identified as tea party members aren't all over Fox News. The mainstream press is no longer running its "what is this goshdarn tea party thing anyway?" stories, with tales of plucky grassroots-y types turned seasoned operators.
To those of us who regularly follow political news, "tea party" is still the shorthand term for a certain type of conservative, mainly because "tea party" rolls off the tongue more smoothly that "barking-mad extremist who'd rather shut down the government and let the country go into default than compromise with other democratically elected government officials." Thus, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are seen as "tea party" guys, even though you rarely see them surrounded by actually tea party crowds.
If you're politicized on the left -- an MSNBC watcher, someone who's heard the tea party called the new Klan and thinks that sounds about right -- you probably have a very bad opinion of the tea party. If you're a casual follower of the news, the tea party isn't really on your radar anymore.
And if you're right-wing, "tea party" simply isn't the shorthand term these days for the barking-mad etc. crowd (whom you probably admire): the folks on Fox are more likely to call these folks "constitutional conservatives" or something like that. So it's entirely possible that many of Ted Cruz's biggest fans don't have particularly strong opinions anymore about the "tea party."
I wish we had a common term for the barking-mad crowd. Then we could run a meaningful poll. In the meantime, I don't think this means much.