The Tea Party movement enjoys widespread support among Kentucky Republican voters, but many Democrats still aren't sure what to make of the small-government crusaders, according to a new Kentucky Poll.
More than one third of likely voters — 39 percent — say they have a favorable view of the movement, compared to 27 percent who have an unfavorable impression. But 34 percent still don't have an opinion on the loose-knit group.
Only 7 percent of GOP voters say the movement is having too much influence on the Republican Party, a clear indication that Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul's campaign for the party's nomination in the Kentucky U.S. Senate race has benefitted greatly from his association with the Tea Party movement. Paul held a 12-point lead over Secretary of State Trey Grayson in Kentucky Poll figures released on Wednesday.
But if Paul wins the May 18th Republican primary, it's not clear how Democrats will view his Tea Party-backed proposals to slash government spending.
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A whopping 42 percent of Democrats don't have an opinion on the movement, compared to 46 percent who view it dimly and 12 percent who have a favorable impression. Meanwhile, nearly half of independents have a favorable view of the Tea Party movement, but one-third remain unsure what to think.
"The Tea Party influence has been mostly Republican because most of us who have run the events are Republicans," said Paul campaign manager David Adams. "But the guiding principles are distinctly Kentuckian: balanced budgets and getting government out of the business of picking economic winners and losers."
It's surprising that less than half of Kentucky Democrats have a negative view of the Tea Party, said Del Ali, president of Research 2000, which conducted the poll.
"I thought that would be much higher," he said. "I would guess if that we polled other states heavy in Democratic registration like Kentucky, the attitude toward the Tea Party would be more unfavorable than 46 percent among Democrats."
Of Kentucky's 2.85 million registered voters, about 57 percent are Democrats and 37 percent Republicans.
The poll underscores that "Kentucky is a very conservative state that is wary of the federal government and where Democratic President Obama is unpopular," said Ali.
The telephone survey of 600 likely voters was conducted May 2 to 4 for the Lexington Herald-Leader, WKYT-TV in Lexington and WAVE-TV in Louisville. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Among Republicans, a clear majority believe the Tea Party is having a positive impact on the Republican Party. Forty-four percent think the movement has the "right amount" of influence on their party while 31 percent said it had "too little."
Mica Sims, a Tea Party organizer and political blogger in Lexington, called the poll results "awesome."
"They show that Kentuckians, Democrats and Republicans, have conservative values," she said, adding that she is a registered Republican who is "proud to support Rand Paul."
But Jasmine Farrier, associate political science professor at the University of Louisville, said she thinks the Tea Party is "primarily a media-driven movement and would be shocked to see it become a viable third party.
"It tends to be an intra-party squabble that will be short-lived, at least through the elections," she said.
Farrier said she found it interesting that the poll showed so many respondents still unsure about what to think of the Tea Party movement or with no opinion about it.
Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson disagreed with the professor.
"The Tea Party is not an intra-party squabble," he said. "If there is any squabble, it's between Americans who are concerned about the future of this country and believe in conservative values and those who don't."
The Tea Party movement emerged in early 2009 through a series of local and national protests, partially in response to federal economic bailout and stimulus packages.
It has since advocated limited government and free markets. Its name stands for "Taxed Enough Already" and is a reference to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, in which American colonists protested taxation by the British government without representation.
Sims said she is not surprised that many poll respondents were not sure about the Tea Party, noting that it remains fairly disorganized in many rural areas of the state. But it's not a passing fad, she said. "It will be around as long as there is out-of-control spending in government."