Rep. Allen West thinks nothing of the new Pew Research Center poll that indicates growing disagreement with the Tea Party movement—even in districts represented by the 60 members of the Tea Party Caucus, which Rep. Michele Bachmann started in the lead-up to the 2010 elections.
"I don't know who they asked; I don't know where they went around and asked people," West says. "I recently talked to some leaders in the South Florida Tea Party movement, and they're still there. And I think they're still having an effect on what's going on in Washington, D.C."
The new poll indicates that 27 percent of the general public now disagrees with the Tea Party, compared to only 14 percent in March 2010. Agreement dropped slightly as well, from 24 to 20 percent.
But more troubling for members like West is the trend in their own districts: Twenty-three percent in Tea Party districts now disagree with the group, compared to 10 percent in March 2010. The percentage of those who agree dropped from 31 percent in March 2010 to 25 percent in November 2011.
The margin of error in Pew's poll is approximately plus or minus 7 percent.
But West says that simply asking people whether or not they agree with the Tea Party is completely unhelpful. "People need to understand and define before they just go out there and say, willy nilly, 'Do you think the Tea Party is great? Do you think it's not great?'" West says. "First of all, define some of those basic, foundational principals, and I think you'll see a different reaction."
And if the Pew numbers do reflect the American people's view of the principles behind the Tea Party, the nation is in even bigger trouble, according to West.
"If you're trying to say that people don't believe that the federal government needs to be fiscally responsible, that the federal government is growing outside its responsibilities, that our free market and free enterprise systems are not important," West says, "then I think we have a greater issue than just a Pew Research Poll."
Regardless, West says his principles don't change with public opinion. He won on the same platform in 2010 that he ran and lost on in 2008, before the Tea Party movement.
And West's communications director, Angela Sachitano, adds that West is focused on explaining the principles, not growing the Tea Party. The movement is "grassroots, it's pure, and it is a reflection of government in this country," she says. "That's the beauty of it. It doesn't start in D.C."
But in politics, perception is vital, and if less Americans agree with the Tea Party, elected officials associated with the movement could suffer. If Pew's numbers represent a growing trend, West and the other 16 freshman who were ushered in on a wave of Tea Party support last cycle could face a harder battle in 2012.
Perhaps worse for those members, the Pew poll indicates that favorability of the Republican Party in districts represented by Tea Party Caucus members has also dropped from 51 percent to 41 percent since September 2010. Opinions of the Democratic Party in such districts remained basically the same over that period, with favorability dropping only 2 percentage points from 41 to 39 percent.
But nobody in politics is popular these days, with President Obama's poll numbers dipping to historic lows and nearly eight in 10 Americans disapproving of how Congress is doing its job.
"It's obvious that all Americans—right, left, center, independent, Tea Party—are frustrated," Sachitano says, adding that West's office hears complaints from all sides. "They don't feel as if their elected representatives are doing enough for them."
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