Their findings suggest that the tea party is essentially the reappearance of an old anti-government far right that has always been with us and accounts for about one-fifth of the country. The Times reported that tea party supporters "tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45." This is the populism of the privileged.
Tea party backers are far more likely than others to describe their views as "very conservative," and are decidedly more inclined than the rest of us to believe that too much is made of the problems facing black people.
Saying this invites immediate denunciations from defenders of those who bring guns to rallies, threaten violence to "take our country back" and mouth old slogans about states' rights and the Confederacy. So let's be clear: Opposition to the president is driven by many factors that have nothing to do with race. But race is definitely part of what's going on.
Here is the poll question in its entirety: "In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?"
Twenty-eight percent of all Americans -- and just 19 percent of those who are not tea party loyalists -- answered "too much." But among tea party supporters, the figure is 52 percent. Tea partiers are almost three times as likely as the rest of us to say that too much attention is being paid to the problems of blacks.
Among all Americans, 11 percent say that the Obama administration's policies favor blacks over whites; 25 percent of tea party sympathizers say this. Again, more is going on here than race, but race is in the picture.
Tea party enthusiasts also consistently side with the better-off against the poor, putting them at odds with most Americans. The poll found that while only 38 percent of all Americans said that "providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor," 73 percent of tea party partisans believed this. Among all Americans, 50 percent agreed that "the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit." Only 17 percent of tea party supporters took this view.
And this must be the first "populist" movement ever driven by a television network: 63 percent of the tea party folks say they most watch Fox News "for information about politics and current events," compared with 23 percent of the country as a whole.
The right-wing fifth of the American population deserves news coverage like everyone else, and Fox is perfectly free to pander to its own viewers. What makes no sense is allowing a sliver of opinion out of touch with, yes, the "real" America to dominate the media and distort our political discourse.