A new Gallup poll indicates that the number of adults who say they back the ultra-conservative tea party has dropped to 17 percent, a new low.

While liberals and moderate Republicans may cheer the decline of a group of anti-deficit hard-liners responsible for much of Washington’s gridlock during the past five years, they shouldn’t write the obituary just yet. Opposition to the tea party also declined in the last year, Gallup said.

The poll, released this week, showed tea party support below 25 percent for the first time since the movement emerged in 2009, fueled by grass-roots outrage over federal spending and bailouts. The group peaked in 2010, registering 32 percent support when Republicans regained control of the House and elected Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, now presidential candidates.

Over the next few years, the tea party’s favorable rankings fell to the mid-20s, yet it continued to wield power disproportionate to its size. It played a role in the political demise of House Speaker John Boehner and his would-be successor, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy. And its favorites dominate the Republican presidential field.

This is probably not, as one commentator said, evidence that the tea party’s hard-line positions have become mainstream. It’s more likely that average Americans have become accustomed to the group, like background noise. Next year’s elections will tell.

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