Interviews with more than a dozen newly minted tea-party volunteers suggest the movement is starting to resemble what Ross Perot harnessed in the early 1990s, and take on some characteristics of the effort that helped drive Democrats into office in recent elections: first-time activists mobilized by strong emotions. Both Mr. Perot and President Barack Obama, despite their very different political positions, tapped the enthusiasm of people previously not involved in politics.
The tea-party movement has a generally conservative orientation, but has manifested itself in a dislike of both establishment parties and a drive for members to get involved. Tea-party groups are using many of the same online and social-networking tools that Democrats successfully deployed during the 2008 presidential election.
Some activists say they became involved after feeling ignored by lawmakers when they tried to voice their opinions. Some say they began paying attention to how Congress functions and didn't like what they saw. Others say they watched friends and family struggle while institutions deemed "too big to fail" were rescued with taxpayer money and the deficit widened ...
The tea-party movement is less of an organized party and more of a loose coalition of local groups that has sprouted across the country under names such as the 9-12 Delaware Patriots and the Louisiana Tea Party Federation. The movement's name harkens to the Revolution-era Boston Tea Party and an on-air rant in February of last year by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, who called for a "tea party" in Chicago to oppose the administration's housing rescue.
Unifying the activism are common themes such as a dislike of the federal government's increasing involvement in the economy—especially financial bailouts—and the U.S.'s ever-increasing debt. The anger likely spells trouble for both parties this election season, although for different reasons.
Democrats, as the ruling party in Washington, are worried about the possibility of heavy losses. Republican establishment candidates and incumbents are facing primary challenges, especially lawmakers not considered pure enough by tea-partiers on their hot-button issues. The GOP has been warily accommodating the movement, which is showing signs of resisting overtures.A recent Pew Research Center survey found that nearly a third of voters want their own congressional incumbents to lose their next elections. That dissatisfaction is similar to surveys in 1994 and 2006, when control of Congress changed hands amid intense anti-incumbent feelings.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, such fervor could lead to a large turnout among conservatives, while their Democratic counterparts appear less motivated to go to the polls.