PROVO — The influence of the tea party movement on Utah voters is on the decline with all but the strongest Republicans, a new Brigham Young University poll shows.
The April 2011 poll by BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy compared support for the tea party movement in November 2010.
Kelly Patterson, center director, said the poll suggests that voters may not like the direction they see the tea party taking the GOP even though they agree with the overall ideals of the movement.
"It's not just about dissatisfaction any more with the government," Patterson said. "Now it's about real people, real leaders, real endorsements."
The poll, posted online at utahdatapoints.com, showed among all voters, less than half — 46 percent — had a favorable view of the tea party in April 2011, compared to 53 percent in November 2010.
The percentage of respondents who identified themselves as active supporters of the tea party dropped from 22 percent in November 2010 to 20 percent in April 2011.
The poll was of 793 voters recruited at polling places throughout Utah in past elections and consisted of an online survey that had to be completed between March 31 and April 11. The margin of error is reported at slightly more than plus or minus 3.9 percent.
Tea party organizer David Kirkham said he was surprised by the poll results. He said he has not seen any decline in interest in the tea party.
"I think a lot of people are on our side out there," Kirkham said. "There are a lot of people who have woken up."
The drop in support among voters who call themselves independent, independent Republicans and not-so-strong Republicans comes as tea party are targeting some elected officials for their support of a controversial immigration law.
Delegates to last month's state GOP convention narrowly voted for a resolution calling for the repeal of HB116, which creates a state guest worker program for illegal immigrants.
The bill had the support of the Republican-dominated Legislature as well as GOP Gov. Gary Herbert. Kirkham said after the vote that backers of the legislation should be worried about being re-elected.
At the same time, longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is increasingly likely to face a challenge in 2012 from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a tea party favorite.
In 2008, GOP delegates energized by the tea party ousted another longtime senator, Bob Bennett. The winner of that seat, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is now seen as a national figure in the tea party.
Patterson said seeing the results of the tea party's efforts may be shifting the opinions of some voters. Among independent voters, support for the tea party has dropped from 49 percent in November 2010 to 24 percent in April 2011.
"What gives the tea party so much of its strength is our caucus system is biased toward the very active and the ideologically committed," Patterson said. "That's not to say there aren't other segments of the population that you can't mobilize."
He said the changing views of the tea party could serve as a wake-up call for the less strident members of the Republican Party, who will begin the process of electing new state delegates next spring.
Those delegate elections, which will determine which candidates advance out of the party's state convention to the 2012 ballot, "will be one very strong indicator of how this party and this movement are negotiating their relationship," Patterson said.
Kirkham said the tea party expects to increase its strength among GOP delegates next year.
"We have people calling every day," Kirkham said. "Some people wander away. I think more people join. That's what we've seen."