As you may have noticed, Democrats have spent an awful lot of time lately hammering John Boehner for taking his marching orders in the budget fight from the Tea Party. On ABC’s Top Line today, for instance, Chuck Schumer was not particularly subtle in advancing this line, claiming that the Tea Party is holding Boehner “hostage” and hammering Boeher for recently claiming: “There’s no daylight between the tea party and me.”

This strategy is all about exploiting the division between the GOP base and independents, who are sharply at odds over whether GOP leaders should shut down the government or reach a budget compromise.

The new Pew poll adds a crucial data point in understanding this dynanmic — independents have swung sharply against the Tea Party in recent days:

The rise in negative views of the Tea Party has occurred largely among political independents and Democrats. Last March, more independents agreed than disagreed with the Tea Party by a 26% to 14% margin. Today, as many independents disagree as agree with the Tea Party (27% each); the percentage disagreeing with the Tea Party has risen 13 points.

As I noted here yesterday, the problem for the GOP leadership is that the budget war is forcing them to navigate a sharp divide between the GOP base and indys. Polls show that majorities of Republicans want a shutdown rather than a compromise. By contrast; strong majorities of independents — who helped the GOP’s gains in 2010 and will be crucial to the party heading into 2012 — want a compromise.

The constant invocation of the Tea Party by Schumer and others is a shorthand effort to exacerbate this division — it’s a bid to paint the GOP as hostage to extremists with the explicit goal of wining back independents. And it’s facilitated by the fact that the more independents learn about the Tea Party, the less they like it.