Even as tea party support wanes in most political circles since the debt ceiling debate in Washington that ended at the beginning August, those who identify themselves with the movement have come out strongly in support of a candidate for president. And although one might think it would be staunch supporter Sarah Palin (who has yet to declare her candidacy) or even the House Tea Party Caucus leader Michele Bachmann, it is neither. According to Gallup polling, a majority of tea party members or Republicans that support the tea party prefer Texas governor Rick Perry over the rest of the GOP field of contenders.
In its findings, the poll not only revealed that Perry had the majority of support, he had it by a significant margin -- 21 percentage points. The Texas governor led former Massachusetts governor 35 percent to 14 percent. The nearest tea party advocate was Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann, who also scored 14 percent support.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who many consider the "godfather of the tea party movement," polled 12 percent. Atlanta businessman and radio talk show host Herman Cain, another tea party favorite (and winner of several small straw polls around the country), polled 6 percent.
Gallup noted its findings came from the same poll that showed Perry favored nationally over all his Republican rivals, amassing a 12-point lead over former GOP nomination frontrunner Romney. The poll also revealed the tea party enjoyed support from 58 percent support from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Of that group, 12 percent admitted to "strong" support for the tea party. Of that number, Perry led Bachmann 46 percent to 16 percent. All other candidates reflected single-digit scores.
Before Perry's declaration of entrance into the 2012 presidential race, Romney had actually held a slight lead over Bachmann, 29 percent to 23 percent.
How to explain Perry's lead among tea party supporters? Perry's adherence to views of small federal government, states rights, and less or no taxes has struck a resonant chord within the tea party movement, which has its roots in libertarian idealism. But Perry's strong advocacy of his Christian beliefs has appealed to many and if a five-year study by Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam and Notre Dame associate professor David E. Campbell holds relevance, the greatest indicator of whether or not a person was a tea party supporter was their desire to see religion play a more dominant role in politics.
In essence, Putnam and Campbell concluded (but did not overtly declare) that much of the tea party gained its strength from what once was the now defunct Moral Majority and Christian Coalition movements. They noted that it was these religious leanings that was reflected in such strong support for candidates like Gov. Perry and Rep. Bachmann.
It must be noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not included in the Gallup polling among the tea party supporters. However, in the national poll, the part-term governor tied with Ron Paul for third place. Bachmann fell to sixth place, finishing behind another undeclared candidate, Rudy Giuliani.
This could indicate a good portion of Palin and Bachmann's supporters might be the same Republican or Republican-leaning voters. Given the large boost Perry and Romney received after they announced their candidacy, a future poll could very well see Palin, should she decide to run for president, competing for part of Perry's tea party contingency as well.
Comparatively, among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents that do not support the tea party, Mitt Romney led the GOP field, 23 percent to 20 percent, with Rep. Paul polling 16 percent. Bachmann, although in fourth-place, only scored 6 percent support.