Tea Party Columnists Misstate Polling Facts

A column posted at Politico by leaders of Tea Party Patriots -- which claims the organization is not racist and contends it is being labeled as such because it opposes Obama -- is misusing polling data to hype its popularity.

The column by Tea Party founders Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler is in response to the NAACP passing a resolution that condemns “extremist elements within the Tea Party, calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches.”

The column states: " ... the NAACP fancies itself the thought police for millions of black Americans. Disagree with them and you will be ostracized and attacked. You will be subjected to public humiliation and racist commentary from NAACP leadership. The message is clear: Toe the line or pay the price."

The column also seeks to promote the Tea Party's influence and popularity by citing two recent polls, but misrepresents their numbers.

“According to recent polling, more than 49 million people are active members of the tea party movement (Winston Group, April 1, 2010),” the column states. “More than 145 million people say that the tea party movement is a good thing for America (Rasmussen, June 2, 2010).”

The April 1 survey by The Winston Group polled 3,000 registered voters and found that 17% of them considered themselves part of the Tea Party movement.

The column, however, states that the poll found that more than 49 million people are active Tea Party members, a stretch of the findings.

“We didn't come up with that number,” said Kristen Soltis, director of strategic research for The Winston Group. “Nowhere in our report did we seek to make a raw estimate of the number of Tea Party members in the United States.”

Soltis pointed out that the survey is simply a sampling of voters and any effort to extend it to reflect the entire population is a mistake.

“We would never take a population estimate and extrapolate that,” she added. “There are a lot of statistical steps there that have to be taken.”

The Martin-Meckler column also cited the June 2 Rasmussen poll that surveyed 1,000 likely voters and found that 46% of them say the Tea Party movement is a good thing.

But again, the columnists misused the data, telling readers that it showed more than 145 million people said the Tea Party is a good thing.

Rasmussen issued the following statement to me when asked about the column:

It's not unusual in our industry to have our polling data interpreted in different ways, and sometimes cited out of context by people from all across the political spectrum.

In terms of our June 2 Tea Party poll, our survey is specifically Likely Voters ...so there's no way that the percentages can be correlated to the population at large. Another point to consider is the likelihood that those voting in the upcoming 2010 midterms will include a larger percentage of older Americans, fewer minorities and more Republicans than the public at

Looking back, fewer than 80 million voted in election 2006, the last midterm election. So, there's no way 145 million voters could hold such views in 2010.

There's a great deal of commentary that includes our poll numbers, and we don't see most of it. We obviously would prefer media to properly interpret and report on our data, and to make clear distinctions between our sample of Likely Voters versus other samples of Registered Voters or All Adults. This is especially key when comparing our election polling results to those of other firms. But in today's fast-paced and instantaneously-reported news world, this doesn't always happen.

Politico editors have not yet returned calls seeking comment.