Assuming a new CBS News/New York Times poll is accurate, tea partyers are older, whiter (just 1 percent are black), angrier and better-educated than your average American. And if you count only those who have actually gone to a rally or given money, you’re talking about 4 percent of the population.

That’s a significant number of people, even more so if you include self-identifying tea partyers who haven’t actually done anything about their beliefs (activists and nonactivists together add up to roughly 16 percent of the population). Still, the wall-to-wall coverage generated by the mainstream media — and, indeed, the alternative media as well — presents a distorted view of the tea party. Other activist groups, the Green Party for instance, aren’t taken so seriously, even if they manage to make more cogent and consistent arguments. And when you group such activists together with Americans who agree with them — anti-war protesters and other people who think the war is a bad idea, or environmental activists and self-identifying environmentalists — their numbers are much more significant.

Take this example: In August, CNN and others gave the impression that the hooligans storming town hall meetings around the country represented widespread dissatisfaction with health care reform. The political impact probably contributed to the death of the public option. A majority of Americans polled at the time said they favored a public option, yet it was treated as a fringe position.

The tea party is a difficult group of people to pin down. For instance, one would think Ron Paul a natural icon for an anti-government movement, but the Texas congressman has about half the tea party approval of George W. Bush, who expanded government and the deficit more than just about anyone. — PZS

CBS News:

Tea Party supporters were asked in the poll what they thought of a few notable figures. The most popular was Sarah Palin, who is viewed favorably by 66 percent of people in the movement. Only 40 percent, however, believe she would be an effective president, a smaller percentage than Republicans overall.

Fifty-nine percent of Tea Party supporters have a favorable impression of Glenn Beck. Nearly as many, 57 percent, have a favorable impression of former President George W. Bush, despite his role in raising the deficit and overseeing TARP bailout of the financial sector.

Just 35 percent view John McCain favorably, and 28 percent view Ron Paul favorably.

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