IT’S NOT REALLY A ‘PARTY’…. This is kind of silly.

The loosely organized group made of up mostly conservative activists and independent voters that’s come to be known as the Tea Party movement currently boasts higher favorability ratings than either the Democratic or Republican Parties, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll coming out later today.

More than four in 10, 41%, of respondents said they had a very or somewhat favorable view of the Tea Party movement, while 24% said they had a somewhat or very negative view of the group. The Tea Party movement gained notoriety over the summer following a series of protests in Washington, D.C. and other cities over government spending and other U.S. economic policies.

For the WSJ, the key is the comparison — 41% have a favorable view of the “Tea Party,” while Democrats have a 35% positive rating and Republicans have a 28% positive rating. The moral of the story, apparently, is that Teabaggers are more popular than the two major parties.

Except that’s not exactly the best way to read the poll. Looking at the internals (pdf), the poll also asked respondents, “How much do you know about the Tea Party movement: do you know a great deal about this, a fair amount, just some, very little, or nothing at all?” About half the country has no idea what the “Tea Party movement” is. Only 7% said they know a great deal about the effort.

For those of us who follow politics at the granular level, keeping up closely with day-to-day details, the right-wing Teabagging rallies were hard to miss. For the typical Americans, who don’t follow political developments closely, “Tea Party” is far more reminiscent of Boston Harbor in 1773 than a bunch of Fox News viewers carrying signs of the president with a Hitler mustache.

With that in mind, comparing a “party” most of the country doesn’t recognize with Democrats and Republicans doesn’t make a lot of sense.

For that matter, Eric Boehlert questioned the utility of polling a “party” that doesn’t, you know, exist (it has no candidates, no platform, no organizational structure, no ballot line, etc.).

I’m not surprised because the Tea Party is a faceless movement that has doesn’t actually stand for anything specific, so people can pretend it’s whatever they want it to be. It’s an utterly pointless polling exercise because people have an ingrained idea of who the Democrats are and what they stand for politically. Same with Republicans. But the non-existent Tea Party, for now, can be whatever voters want it to be.

But put a specific face on it (i.e. Sarah Palin or Dick Armey) and start pressing poll respondents to choose, and the results will change. […]

If there’s truly a third party movement afoot and Democrats and Republicans are about to get steamrolled by it, so be it. It just seems odd for news orgs to poll people about a political party that doesn’t actually exist.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.