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Tea Party Legislators Rival Obama as Preferred Policy Leader

Americans prefer each more than Republican or Democratic leaders in Congress

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are as likely to want Tea Party-backed Republican members of Congress to have the most influence over federal policies in the coming year as they are to prefer President Barack Obama. The Democratic leaders in Congress rank last in this regard, behind the Republican leaders.

Preference for Key Policy Player in Federal Government in Next Year, November 2010

The 27% of Americans preferring Tea Party Republicans on this measure roughly matches the percentage telling Gallup throughout 2010 that they are supporters of the Tea Party movement -- 26% in a recent pre-election survey.

Looking more broadly at the partisan balance of the results, 50% of Americans want either the Republican leaders in Congress or the Republican members supported by the Tea Party movement to have the most influence on the nation's policies. That is slightly more than the 44% choosing either Obama or the Democratic leaders. These results mirror the 49% to 41% split in favor of Republicans that Gallup recently found when asking Americans whether they want Obama or the Republicans in Congress to have more influence over the direction the country takes in the next year.

Independents Boost Tea Party Strength

Independents' as well as Republicans' views push Tea Party Republicans high on the list. While about a quarter of political independents would prefer that Obama have the most influence on policy matters, and a similar percentage choose the Republican leaders, the largest percentage, 32%, choose Tea Party Republicans.

Rank-and-file Republicans are about evenly divided between wanting Republican members of Congress supported by the Tea Party and the Republican leaders in Congress to have the most influence: 44% vs. 42%, respectively. By contrast, Democrats clearly prefer President Obama to the Democratic leaders in Congress, in terms of who should prevail on policy.

Preference for Key Policy Player in Federal Government in Next Year, by Party ID, November 2010

A Risk of Overreaching

The Tea Party movement's manifesto includes rolling back many of President Obama's domestic policy victories, particularly healthcare reform. However, slightly more Americans are concerned that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will go too far in reversing the Democrats' policies than are worried it will not go far enough, 50% vs. 43%.

Naturally, most Democrats worry that the Republicans will go too far in reversing the Democrats' policies, and most Republicans worry that they will not go far enough. In a nod to the Democrats' position, the slight majority of independents, 51%, say they are more concerned about the Republicans' going too far.

Greater Risk Regarding Republican Efforts to Reverse Democratic Policies, Among National Adults and by Party ID, November 2010

Also, the vast majority of Americans who want either Obama or the Democrats in Congress to have the most influence on policy are concerned that the Republicans will go too far in trying to reverse the Democrats' policies. Roughly three-quarters of each group say this is their greater concern. By contrast, those who want the Republican leadership to direct policy are less resolute about undoing the Obama agenda than are those who back the Tea Party Republicans, 60% vs. 74%.

Greater Risk Regarding Republican Efforts to Reverse Democratic Policies, by Who Should Have Most Influence on Federal Policy in Coming Year, November 2010

Bottom Line

As if having two political parties vying for power in Congress in the next session won't be challenging enough, the Tea Party movement has emerged as a potent third wheel with a legitimate claim for demanding a strong voice in decision making. While Americans' preferences are generally splintered, they are more likely to want Tea Party Republicans, rather than either Republican or Democratic leaders, to direct the nation's policy decisions -- a fact the Republican leadership, in particular, apparently ignores at its peril. At the same time, the percentage of independents and traditional Republicans who are wary of an aggressive effort to reverse recently enacted Democratic policies is enough to result in more Americans fearing the Republicans will go too far in this regard than fearing they will not go far enough.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 19-21, 2010, with a random sample of 1,037 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit


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