CNN polls tea-party activists:
Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative, according to a new national poll.
They should add "overwhelmingly tend to exaggerate their political involvement" to that list of adjectives. This is because 11% of the country are not tea-party activists:
According to the survey, roughly 11 percent of all Americans say they have actively supported the Tea Party movement, either by donating money, attending a rally, or taking some other active step to support the movement.
The poll surveyed adults aged 18 years and over. This group makes up 75.7% of the population, according to the Census Buereau. With a national population of 308,703,482, that would make about 26 million tea party activists.
For some perspective on why these numbers are simply wrong, consider than less than ten million people donated to political campaigns in 2008, and that the largest gathering in the entire history of the United States was the three million people who turned out for the Boston Red Sox victory parade after they won the World Series in 2004.
So, even if tea party activists have magically equaled the record protest when no one noticed, and even if they have more donors than all political campaigns in 2008 combined, and even if none of the people who turned out at these mythical rallies were also political donors, even then they only have half as many activists as this CNN poll claims.
Part of this is a problem with the poll, which vaguely includes people who are "taking some other active step to support the movement," whatever that means. However, the main problem comes from the tendency for Americans to grossly exaggerate their level of political activism. Consider:
For example, the current population survey taken by the Census Bureau estimates that total turnout in 2006 was over 96,000,000, even though, as I already pointed out, it was a shade under 86,000,000.
Its not just exaggerations about turning out to events and voting, either. In late October of 2008, 15% of likely voters had already claimed to have donated to a political campaign. With 132,588,514 voters in 2008, that would mean 20,000,000 donors in the 2008 election cycle, not even counting the wave of donations that usually flood in during the final week of the campaign. Given that there were about 4,000,000 people donated to President Obama's campaign, the absurdity of the 20,000,000 figure becomes clear
About 5-10% of the American adult population claims to be political active, but actually are not. Perhaps they feel guilty for not participating and politics, so they tell other people that they participate. Perhaps they consume a lot of news, and consider that political activism in and of itself. Perhaps they would like to be political activists, but simply haven't gotten around to it. Whatever the case, between two and three times as many Americans claim to go to political rallies, donate to campaigns, and take other action (contacting elected officials or members of the media, wearing political paraphernalia, joining a political organization) than actually go to political rallies, donate to campaigns or take other action.
Believe me, I wish that about 20% of the country were political activists. Not only would it make for a much better democracy in this country, but it would make political punditry and activism of the sort we do here on Open Left a huge, booming business. The truth is, however, that at most 10 million Americans, or about 4% of the adult population, are political activists. This means that surveys of political activists, like the one conducted by CNN, pretty much just survey the much larger group of faux-activists. So, I guess we at least get to know what all the posers are like.