A CONFUSED GROUP OF MISLED PEOPLE…. A new New York Times/CBS News poll was released last night, taking a closer look at those who identify with the so-called Tea Party “movement.” The results confirm much of what we already know — this is a confused contingent of conservative white people older than 45 — but there were a few interesting tidbits.

Tea Partiers are obviously not part of the American mainstream. Its activists are to the right of the Republican Party, they have favorable opinions of George W. Bush, and rely heavily on Fox News. They don’t like health care reform, worry about government spending, and think the government does too much to address the problems of the African-American community.

For all the recent talk about Dems and independents connecting with the right-wing movement, Tea Partiers “usually or almost always vote Republican.” And for all the hullabaloo about the groups’ rallies, only 4% of the general public has “given money or attended a Tea Party event, or both.”

But the kicker is the predictable limits of the extreme ideology.

[I]n follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

The point, of course, is not to pick on one confused person who sounded foolish when put on the spot. The point is Jodine White of Rocklin, Calif., is fairly representative of the larger movement.

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you’d only see one circle.

These folks claim to be motivated by concerns over taxes, but Tea Partiers tend not to know anything about the subject. They claim to be angry about the Affordable Care Act, but they don’t know what’s in it. They claim to hate expensive government programs, except for all the expensive government programs that benefit them and their families.

It’s inherently challenging to create a lasting, successful political movement predicated on literally nothing more than ignorance and rage. In the case of Tea Partiers, we’re talking about a reasonably large group of people who seem to revel in their own ignorance, but nevertheless seek an active role in the process.

Following up on an item from a few weeks ago, this is important to the extent that there are still some who believe the political mainstream should do more to listen to the Tea Party crowd and take its hysterical cries seriously. But how can credible people take nonsense seriously and hope to come up with a meaningful result? How can policymakers actually address substantive challenges while following the advice of angry mobs who reject reason and evidence?

The bottom line seem inescapable: Tea Party activists have no idea what they’re talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

Steve Benen

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.