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The Tea Party does D.C. But who are they?

At this weekend’s “Restoring Honor” rally, Tea Party devotees will descend on the city they love to hate: Washington D.C.

Master of Ceremonies Glenn Beck and the "Restoring Honor" event organizers say that the rally is “a non-political and non-partisan event” that should not be characterized as a “Tea Party rally.” But appearances by Beck and Sarah Palin ensure that many or most of the attendees will be people who share the conservative small-government principles that unite Tea Party fans.

But just who makes up the Tea Party? We dug deep into the crosstabs of the latest NBC/WSJ poll conducted by Peter Hart and Bill McInturff to learn a little more about this group - a little less than a third of registered voters - who say they're interested in voting for Tea Party candidates.

It is true that Tea Party supporters are mostly white. According to the NBC/WSJ poll, 84 percent of registered voters who said they may be interested in voting for the Tea Party were white, while about 6 percent were black, and 3 percent were Hispanic. (But it’s also worth noting that the dominance of white Tea Party supporters is no more dramatic than the racial breakdown for the GOP as a whole; in the same sample, 90 percent of respondents who classified themselves as Republican were white.)

Tea Party voters also tend to be older. Six in ten of the Tea Party voters in the poll were over 45 years old.

About 60 percent of those who said they were interested in voting for Tea Party candidates do not have a college degree. That’s about the same as registered voters at large. About 40 percent reported an annual household income of over $75,000 – making them a tad more affluent than the rest of the public.

Tea Party voters do tend to identify as Republicans, and they are closely aligned with the rest of the GOP on dimensions like their disapproval of Barack Obama and their view of the direction the country is headed. But just because most of these voters are Republicans, it doesn't mean that Republicans are big fans of the Tea Party. Almost half of self-identified Republicans say they are neutral on the Tea Party, have negative feelings about it, or are unable to say what they think about it at all.

So how are Tea Party voters different from your garden-variety GOPer?

One hint might be their job security. A quarter of Tea Party voters in the August survey said they are “very dissatisfied” with their job security, compared to only 16 percent of Republicans overall.

They’re also more likely to be dissatisfied with the current state of the Republican Party. Thirty-six percent of poll respondents who are interested in voting for Tea Party candidates say they have negative feelings about the GOP. (Only about one in five generic Republicans say the same.)

They're not all Republicans. Hart and McInturff found that about nine percent of their May sample represented independents and Democrats who view the Tea Party positively. These Americans are particularly disaffected; more than 20 percent of this group did not vote in the 2008 election, and more than half believe that the country's political and economic systems put them at a disadvantage.

And, they’re energized. Seventy-two percent of Tea Party voters say they’re very interested in the November election. (For Republicans overall, it’s a handful of points lower at 68 percent.) Those numbers spell trouble for Democrats, half of whose voters are lukewarm about the election.

Of course, the folks who are taking the time to travel to Washington D.C. for the “Restoring Honor” rally won’t be exactly representative of all Tea Party voters. But you can bet a lot of reporters will be asking questions of the enthusiastic attendees of Beck’s much-publicized event.