To get a sense of just how important Fox News' relentlessly free promotion and marketing has been to Tea Party groups, and how if it weren't for national, partisan outside sources of funding the movement would barely exist, take a look at some of the data from a new Washington Post canvass poll.
About the survey:
The results come from a months-long effort by The Post to contact every tea party group in the nation, an unprecedented attempt to understand the network of individuals and organizations at the heart of a movement that sprang up shortly after Obama's inauguration in 2009 and that has captured the attention of the country with its passionate rallies and stunning victories in primaries from Delaware to Alaska.
In all, The Post identified more than 1,400 possible groups and was able to verify and reach 647 of them. Each answered a lengthy questionnaire about his or her beliefs, members and goals.
Three findings really jumped out. Take a look at these Tea Party group averages:
1. Attendance at last public event: 200 people.
2. Amount of money raised in 2010: $800.
2. Amount of money on hand right now: $500.
I believe the word I'm looking for here is "underwhelming." I mean, you could probably find several hundred PTA groups across the country that were more robust than the average Tea Party group.
But you know what? If a cable news channel suddenly decided to devote huge chunks of its air-time to covering PTA's, to having PTA members on all the time, to helping raise money for PTA's, pretty soon you'd start to think that PTA's were really, really important and influential.
I'm not suggesting that the Tea Party movement is a 100% creation of Fox News. But I do think it's a lot less grassroots than its cheerleaders would like to admit. The findings of the Washington Post survey highlight how bare bones the groups really are and how, without the exaggerated (and free) megaphone of Fox News, the Tea Party groups wouldn't be getting nearly as much attention, or enjoying as much political success, as they do now.