Study Finds Trump Support Rooted in Tea Party Movement

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(CN) – Backlash against the Obama administration led a band of conservatives to form the tea party and help take control of the House in 2010. Though the faction has largely dissipated, its ideological allies are some of President Donald Trump’s strongest supporters, according to an analysis released Thursday.

Using survey data from 2014-18, Pew Research Center analysts found that respondents who were supportive of the tea party movement were also the most supportive of Trump, and that support has increased since his election.

A majority of tea party supporters – 61% – had “warm feelings” for Trump in 2016, which jumped to 78% by 2018. By contrast, only 39% of Republicans who opposed the tea party supported Trump in 2016. Their support of the president spiked to 53% last year, but that is down slightly from 2017.

Republicans who had no opinion of the tea party also supported Trump less last year compared to 2017, according to the analysis.

The drop in support lent itself to a noticeable schism amongst Republicans in 2014-15. According to survey data, Republican respondents who either opposed or had no opinion about the tea party were more than three times as likely to defect to the Democratic Party as those who supported the movement – 14% compared to 3%.

Based on additional data from the 2016 Republican Primary, some who disagreed with the tea party but did not leave the GOP entirely found a favorite candidate in former Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of the most vocal candidates against then-candidate Donald Trump.

Many of those voters seemed to originally back Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in 2015, but likely shifted over to Kasich after the Rubio campaign floundered.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also gained some support from GOP voters opposed to the tea party, but in smaller numbers than Kasich. Cruz’s support from non-tea party Republicans jumped from 2% in 2015 to 10% the next year, while their support for Kasich jumped from 5% to 23% during the same period.

Though Trump has consistently found majority support from GOP voters, his true base seems largely comprised of tea party Republicans, based on the survey data. That could present a problem for the president’s re-election bid in 2020, because the data also revealed dwindling support for the movement. Since the height of the tea party in 2010, support dwindled from 49% to 28% in 2015.

The number of Republicans opposed to the tea party grew within those five years, but the increase was a minimal 7%. Instead, most Republicans who stopped supporting the tea party came out with no opinion of the movement as opposed to outright opposition. Republicans with no opinion about the tea party rose from 48% in 2010 to 61% in 2015.

Tea party supporters dwindled throughout President Barack Obama’s second term, but those who backed the movement found renewed political power by supporting President Trump. But the president’s base, primarily comprised of tea party voters from nearly a decade ago, doesn’t seem to be increasing, which could present a problem next year if Republicans who are on the fence decide to stay home or even vote for the Democratic candidate on Election Day.

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