The tea party seems to be on its last legs in a state where two years ago the movement was as energized as anywhere in the country.
In a Winthrop University poll released on Tuesday, just five percent of South Carolinians consider themselves a member of the tea party. More surprisingly, just 11 percent of state Republicans and independent voters who lean Republican consider themselves part of the movement.
A year ago, over 28 percent of Republican voters and independent-leaning Republicans identified themselves as part of the tea party.
“I’m not surprised,” said Allen Olson, founder of the Columbia TEA Party. “We’ve pretty much been maligned. We’ve been attached to the libertarian faction, so-to-speak, and they’ve been trying to use the tea party to push their agenda.”
Olson still considers himself part of the movement, but he left the group he founded and endorsed former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich after being disappointed with Rep. Michele Bachmann, the presumptive tea party candidate.
The state’s “real” tea party, Olson said, differs with the libertarian faction on property rights, police protection and laws against drunk driving.
“Their agenda has absolutely nothing to do with the tea party,” he said. “They are being branded as an extremist organization, which they are, but that’s not the real tea party.” (RELATED: Full coverage of the tea party movement)
But even Olson admitted that the state’s tea party movement, as he knew it two years ago, does not exist any more.
“In my personal opinion, I don’t think there is any tea party that stands for what the original intent was about in South Carolina,” he told The Daily Caller. “Now, throughout the country, you’re going to find plenty of them that are, but I think South Carolina has been pretty much maligned.”
In late 2009 and 2010, thousands of discontented voters gathered in rallies across the state, and many protesters joined fellow citizens in the nation’s capital to rally against the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the health care law.
Leaders like South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint spurred on the movement and sought to be its voice inside the marble halls of the U.S. Capitol. Now it appears that the group that defined the 2010 midterm elections is petering out just as the 2012 presidential election kicks into high gear.
Olson said the state Republican Party has co-opted the tea party for their own purposes, but that he will probably still vote for the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, despite significant ideological differences.
“What first brought the tea party together needs to be remembered and remain,” Olson concluded. “The majority of Americans actually believe in those core values: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets.”