A CNN poll on the Tea Party has been lauded by the left as evidence that the grass-roots, small-government movement is on the decline. Perhaps liberals should hold their applause.

The CNN poll reports:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday indicates that 32 percent of the public has a favorable view of the two year old anti-tax movement, which also calls for less government spending and a more limited role for the federal government in our lives. The 32 percent favorable rating is down five points from December.

Forty-seven percent of people questioned say they have an unfavorable view of the tea party, up four points from December and an increase of 21 points from January 2010. That 47 percent is virtually identical to the 48 percent unfavorable ratings for both the Democratic party and the Republican party in the same poll.

The poll adds this data:

The tea party movement’s unfavorable rating rose 15 points since October among lower-income Americans, compared to only five points among those making more than $50,000. Roughly half of all American households have incomes under $50,000, and half make more than that.

“It’s possible the drop among lower income Americans is a reaction to the tea party’s push for large cuts in government programs that help lower-income Americans, although there are certainly other factors at work,” adds [CNN Polling Director Keating] Holland.

But let’s unpack all that. First, the poll is of all Americans (generally a sign of a leftward-tilt in results), not registered or likely voters. Second, while the poll asserts that half of all American households make under $50,000, the electorate is very different. In the 2010 exit polls, only 36 percent of voters had household incomes less than $50,000. These people voted Democratic (54 percent), while the electorate as a whole voted for Republicans over Democrats by a wide margin. And for non-white voters with incomes under $50,000 the Democratic tilt was even more dramatic (80 percent voted Democratic). Among those who voted for Democrats, 86 percent had a negative view of the Tea Party.

CNN hasn’t released the underlying data, so we don’t know if the drop in support among low-income respondents is simply a reflection of increased animosity by Democrats or a rally-’round- Obama phenomenon by minority voters who still favor the president to a greater degree than the electorate as a whole. Moreover, we don’t know whether the poll over-sampled the very groups most likely to have negative views of the Tea Party.

But if the Tea Party’s favorable rating dropped only 5 percentage points since December — nearly within the poll’s margin of error — then the grass-roots movement must be doing pretty darn well with the rest of the respondents (that is, those with incomes over $50,000 who made up 64 percent of the 2010 electorate).

It’s hard to figure why the results reflect “a reaction to the tea party’s push for large cuts in government programs that help lower-income Americans.” Was that question asked? Or is that pure speculation? That assertion is even more odd in that the cuts the Tea Party generally embraces — e.g. means-testing Social Security — AREN’T aimed at the poor.

What we do know is that the electorate as a whole and the Congress including Senate Democrats have accepted the Tea Party’s core message of deficit reduction and spending restraint. But if liberals want to keep on discounting the importance of the Tea Party, and more important, the message of the Tea Party, I am sure fiscal conservatives would be delighted.