Nearly two-thirds of Tennessee Republicans say they back the goals of the tea party, but only about one in seven considers himself a tea party member.
Among 400 Republicans surveyed across Tennessee last week by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., 65 percent said they "generally support the agenda of the tea party movement," compared with only 16 percent of Republicans who oppose tea party goals.
But when asked if they consider themselves a member of the tea party, only 15 percent said "yes."
"I certainly don't like the way the government seems to be taxing everything to death, but I pretty much mind what I'm doing and don't attend any tea party meetings," said Herbert Himbian, an 82-year-old retired farmer in Bradley County, Tenn., who said he likes what the tea party is trying to accomplish.
Alicia Johnson, an English teacher who lives in Cleveland, Tenn., also said she supports the tea party objectives of reducing the size of government and promoting fiscal responsibility.
"Some of what is said by some tea party members could be considered on the fringe, but I certainly think the government needs to stop spending so much," she said.
Such sentiments are typical of many Tennesseans frustrated by rising government deficits and lagging economic growth. The tea party movement draws its name from the 18th century Boston Tea Party rebellion against British taxes by American colonists.
"There is a lot of discontent now with government, especially with Congress, and the tea party movement is tapping into that frustration," said Dr. Rick Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "Congress increasingly is delegating power to bureaucratic agencies, leading to a situation in which accountability is lost."
He said that, like most movements, the tea party draws more support for its ideals than attendance at its meetings.
The Chattanooga Tea Party was launched in April 2009 and has grown to include 1,800 subscribers to its newsletter and 1,150 friends of the local party's Facebook page, Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said.
"This is not a fleeting movement or a dwindling mob," said Mr. West, who said attendance at tea party meetings and rallies is growing as the election gets closer. "Our city, state and nation are facing challenges that are the most significant in the last 80 years, and people are growing more and more concerned."
Chattanooga Tea Party members, upset by the 19 percent property tax increase approved by Chattanooga last month, say they are supporting efforts to recall Mayor Ron Littlefield.
"If the city cannot live within its means given these increases (in fees and assessments), when can it ever manage the taxpayers' money responsibly?" asked Brandon Jennings, a Chattanooga Tea Party member.
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