The New Hampshire primary has many fine traditions: house parties in cramped farmhouse parlors; town hall meetings with substantive questions from well-informed voters; and icy storms that punish Washington-based reporters who thought duck boots were a crime against fashion.
Yet another tradition is sniping from state party officials who try to inflict a little collateral damage on the other team’s candidates, especially the front-runners.
Such is the case with New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley, whose team of operatives has been especially focused on Republican Mitt Romney, who proved in his 2002 gubernatorial victory in Massachusetts that he can appeal to suburban, independent voters.
When Romney earlier this month decided to attend a Tea Party Express event in Concord, Buckley issued a news release deriding "Mitt Romney’s Official Tea Party Debut."
"The Tea Party does not represent the majority of Granite Staters," Buckley asserted. "This is evidenced by the Tea Party-backed State House Republicans here, who in only nine months have amounted to one of the most unpopular legislatures in New Hampshire's history.
"Two-thirds of Granite Staters oppose the Tea Party and Romney’s Right to Work for Less agenda, and even more oppose the GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it."
For this fact-check, we're examining Buckley's claim that two-thirds oppose the tea party and its support for a controversial "right-to-work" bill in Concord. Considering that tea party voters helped fuel a huge Republican victory in New Hampshire legislative races in 2010, Buckley’s statement, if true, would indicate a rather abrupt change of heart.
Asked for backup for Buckley’s claim, New Hampshire Democratic Party spokeswoman Holly Shulman cited a New Hampshire Tea Party website that strongly endorses legislation that would weaken unions’ clout by preventing them from collecting dues or fees from nonmembers covered by union contracts. She also cited polls by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center that show strong support for the right to collectively bargain.
There is no doubt that the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition news release for a May 25, 2011, rally identifies the "right to work" bill as "the most important piece of legislation for the future health of the New Hampshire economy that will be considered in this session or any other session."
And Romney, does, indeed, support "right-to-work" laws, and has specifically spoken in favor of the GOP bill in Concord, which would end a practice allowing union contracts to include a clause requiring non-union workers to pay a share of collective bargaining costs.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, and supporters have been unable to muster an override.
But there are two major issues with Buckley’s claim: First, it suggests that two-thirds of New Hampshire voters oppose the tea party, not just its agenda on labor issues. And secondly, it distorts what is known about public opinion on the union issue.
Polls show Buckley is correct in saying the tea party doesn’t represent "the majority" of Granite Staters, but to suggest that two-thirds oppose the group is a big stretch.
UNH Survey Center director Andrew Smith said his group’s most recent poll, in July 2011, showed that 27 percent of New Hampshire adults supported the tea party, 35 percent were opposed, and 38 percent were neutral or said they didn’t know.
"This has been pretty consistent for the past year," he said by e-mail.
Shulman also referred PolitiFact to a New York Times/CBS News poll on Aug. 5, 2011, and wrote, "Recent national polls show the tea party is very unpopular." That national poll, incidentally, found 20 percent of Americans with a favorable view of the tea party, 40 percent unfavorable, and 39 percent saying they were either undecided or hadn’t heard enough about the group.
But Smith told us that opinion on the tea party in New Hampshire tracks closely along political affiliation -- support among Republicans, opposition among Democrats, and mixed opinion among independents, with more than 50 percent of them neutral about the group.
"I can see what (the Democrats) are trying to do, but I don’t think that saying that two-thirds of people in New Hampshire oppose the tea party accurately reflects public opinion," Smith said.
He also takes some exception with how Buckley’s team is characterizing the polling data on unions. The UNH Survey Center poll in May, which Democrats cited, asked respondents whether public- and private-sector workers should have the right to form unions and negotiate pay and benefits.
And, indeed, there is support for unionization on that front in both sectors. Sixty-six percent of respondents said workers should have the right to unionize, with only 20 percent opposed, and the numbers for government workers, specifically, weren’t much different.
But Smith said his polling specifically avoided using "right to work," which refers to laws outlawing compulsory dues paying.
Using the phrase "right to work," Smith said, "doesn’t accurately reflect" what his poll question asked.
Buckley said "Two-thirds of Granite Staters oppose the Tea Party" and its agenda on labor unions.
But UNH polls show the opposition to the tea party is about 35 percent, about half as much as Buckley says.
And while New Hampshire voters support the right to form unions and negotiate, the polls Democrats cite don’t ask about the also contentious issue of compulsory union dues. We rate Buckley's claim Mostly False.