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The Tea Party has emerged as a potent force in American politics and a center of gravity within the Republican Party, with a large majority of Republicans showing an affinity for the movement that has repeatedly bucked the GOP leadership this year, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found.
In the survey, 71% of Republicans described themselves as Tea Party supporters, saying they had a favorable image of the movement or hoped tea- party candidates would do well in the Nov. 2 elections.
Already, the Tea Party movement has helped to oust a number of incumbents and candidates backed by party leaders in this year's GOP primaries amid complaints that they lacked commitment to small-government principles. The poll findings suggest that the rising influence of the movement, with its push to cut spending and oppose the Democratic agenda, will drive the GOP to become more conservative and less willing to seek common ground on policy.
"These are essentially conservative Republicans who are very ticked-off people," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
If the Republicans win control of the House or Senate this fall, McInturff added, the survey shows "enormous amounts about how limited the interest is going to be in those new majorities to try to seek negotiation with the president or the Democratic leadership."
The poll found that Tea Party supporters make up one-third of the voters most likely to cast ballots in November's midterm elections. This showed the movement "isn't a small little segment, but it is a huge part of what's driving 2010," Hart said.
The GOP now holds a three-point edge, 46% to 43%, when likely voters are asked which party they would prefer to control Congress. That is down from a nine-point Republican lead a month ago.