Bloomberg News

Republican-Tea Party Tiff Means 41% Don’t Like Candidates

December 11, 2013

Republican-Tea Party Tension Rises as 41% Don’t Like Candidates

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12, 2013. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to dislike their own political candidates, the latest indication of an intra-party power struggle that will play out in primary elections next year.

Forty-one percent of Republicans say they are unsatisfied with the party’s choices for president and Congress, while 14 percent of Democrats are unhappy with their party picks, according to the Bloomberg National Poll.

Republicans are also more inclined to view their party unfavorably than their Democratic counterparts, and are twice as likely to blame their partisan colleagues for dysfunction in Congress.

“I have a Republican representative in Congress, and he’s an obstructionist,” said Robert Wiens, 78, a Republican from Redlands, California. He doesn’t agree with many of the positions taken by Representative Gary Miller, including his opposition to a revision of immigration laws.

“The party is going away from me,” he said. “They’re afraid of the Tea Party, and I don’t have any good feelings at all about the Tea Party.”

Tensions between small-government supporters and other Republicans came to the surface yesterday. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, criticized Tea Party-related groups for pressuring lawmakers to oppose a budget deal that would reduce the deficit by $23 billion over a decade, raise some fees and ease automatic cuts for defense and other agencies.

Boehner Criticism

“They’re using our members, and they’re using the American people for their own goals, this is ridiculous,” said Boehner, whose House colleagues are facing primary challenges from both the Tea Party and business-backed candidates.

The tug-of-war is becoming a “fight for the heart and soul” of the party, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is facing primary challenges to his re-election, said in a Dec. 10 interview.

At least seven of the 12 Republicans seeking new Senate terms are facing intra-party opponents, hurdles that could deplete resources and divide party activists before they take on the Democrats in the November general elections. Republicans must gain a net of six seats to win control of the Senate.

“This poll provides evidence of a problem inside the Republican Party,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of the Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “In every way we looked at it, self-identified Democrats are more engaged and satisfied with their party.”

Tea Party

The Tea Party’s image is at a record low since the poll began measuring it in March 2010 after the activists burst onto the political scene in 2009 to oppose passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Forty-eight percent of survey respondents have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party, while 30 percent view it favorably. That’s a decline of 5 percentage points since March 2012.

Forty-six percent of respondents, including a quarter of Republicans, say the movement’s “call for a significantly limited and reduced federal government is simplistic and misguided.” Thirty-nine percent of Americans, including 57 percent of Republicans, say it has “rightly identified” the role for the federal government.

Still, the public’s negative political views extend across the board. The unfavorability rating for Republicans stands at 53 percent while Democrats draw 49 percent. Among Republicans, 20 percent viewed their own party unfavorably compared with 13 percent of Democrats who view their party in a dim light.

Blame Themselves

Twelve percent of Republicans blame their party for the gridlock in Washington, while 6 percent of Democrats say its the fault of their own partisans.

The telephone survey of 1,004 Americans was conducted Dec. 6-9. Results have a margin or error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Findings from subsets, including Tea Party responses, carry a larger margin of error.

“I’m totally against all Washington politicians right now because they’ve stalled out our government,” said Paul Ackerman, 43, a Republican from Raleigh, North Carolina. “There’s no real job growth. Obamacare is kicking our butts. My insurance is going up, and I’m losing my job in three months. I don’t see anybody, including the Tea Party, making any bit of a difference.”

Half of those polled identified themselves as independent, compared with 21 percent as Republicans and 24 percent as Democrats. One-quarter of respondents, regardless of party, said they are Tea Party supporters.

The differences between the small-government activists and Republicans also extend to the type of candidates they seek.

Principled Candidates

For instance, a slight majority of Americans, 51 percent, say they’d prefer a candidate who stands by principle even when it means confronting others instead of someone who is willing to compromise to get things done.

The response was clearer among Tea Party respondents. Of them, 67 percent say they want a candidate who will remain true to his or her principles, compared with 29 percent who prefer a candidate who is committed to getting things done, even if it means working out a deal through legislative compromise.

Broadly, Republicans also prefer candidates committed to their principles over compromisers, though not as sharply, by 59 percent compared with 38 percent. A majority of Democrats, 55 percent, say they’d back candidates willing to negotiate legislative agreements.

Business Agenda

Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party backers are united in opposition to a plan by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to spend money protecting their allies against challenges from Tea Party candidates. Sixty-one percent of Americans said they “don’t like” that approach.

“I’m quite conservative, and I oppose anyone who opposes the most conservative candidates,” said Cora Goggins, 84, an Ennis, Montana, Republican.

The chamber and other business groups in October said they would begin engaging in primary races after some Republicans, urged by Tea Party groups, threatened to block an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling, raising the prospect of a U.S. default.

The business trade group -- the 10th biggest outside spender in the 2012 elections -- will work “to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness,” Scott Reed, a chamber political strategist, told Bloomberg News in October.

In November, the chamber helped Bradley Byrne edge out a fellow Republican who inspired Tea Party enthusiasm in an Alabama U.S. House special election.

Idaho Primary

It recently bought ads in an Idaho Republican primary promoting eight-term Republican Representative Mike Simpson over Tea Party favorite Bryan Smith, and the business group is entering the Kentucky Republican Senate primary where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing Matt Bevin, another favorite of the small-government movement.

The chamber, which spent $35.7 million on 2012 federal races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is being countered by Tea Party-aligned groups, including the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks. Together, those three spent $41.1 million in last year’s elections, according to the Washington-based center.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at

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