For people who pay a lot of attention to politics, it is hard to understand how some people still don't know who Tea Party Movement types are, and what they stand for. Over the last couple years, they've gone from an unknown entity, to a major driver in American politics, taking over the driver's seat in the Republican base and eating up a huge share of the political media's attention.
But that hasn't done good things for its popularity.
Neither party has been willing to touch the "third rails" of politics, entitlement programs for the retirement aged, for generations. In fact, with a handful of notable exceptions, both parties have been more than willing to pander to this older demographic, that votes in higher numbers than any other, by adding more benefits to programs like Medicare and social security.
But with the threat of Tea Party backlash in primaries across the country a constant worry for Republican officeholders, their extreme budget-cutting views have helped push nearly the entire GOP caucus in the House and Senate to vote for Paul Ryan's Medicare slashing budget proposal. Only the three remaining moderate New England Republicans (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Scott Brown) are standing against Ryan's budget.
This would have not been possible without the pressure of the Tea Party, and it could lead to massive backlash in next year's election.
Polling data shows that, after peaking near 40 percent last year, just a third of the American people support the Tea Party. To put this in perspective, these numbers are even lower than approval ratings of the two major parties, both who are hovering in the mid to lower 40's. Dig into the data a bit deeper though, and you find even more interesting tidbits.
The media, who has always been obsessed with squeaky wheel groups that make a lot of noise, is convinced the Tea Party will harm the Republicans' chances of gaining seats next year. This may certainly be true if they have to make far right campaign promises and votes to win their primary support, but most of the public doesn't seem to care about them. When given the option, around half of people polled say that a candidate saying they are a member doesn't change their view of them. Just 26 percent say it makes them less likely to support them, versus only 14 percent that says it would make them more likely to.
More than any other group, the Tea Party illustrates how a small portion of the population, in a democratic republic with low levels of political engagement, can get much more power than they should, through being loud, active and unreasonable. Groups like this don't need to convince the American people at large to get what they want, they only need to convince some elected members of one of the two major parties.
But this is the Tea Party's right. As much as it shows a fundamental flaw in our two-party system, if the rest of us were as engaged politically, the extremes wouldn't have such disproportionate power.