We know the so-called Tea Party “movement,” once riding high, has seen its support falter of late, as evidenced by polls showing the American mainstream far more aligned with Occupy Wall Street. These activists and their leaders are, it seems, still at the center of the contemporary Republican power structure, but what does the future hold for the Tea Party?

In a piece in the upcoming print edition of the Washington Monthly, Colin Woodard reports on Tea Partiers’ waning influence, but with a specific focus on geography. The editors’ summary of the story helps set the stage for an interesting piece:

As 2010 drew to a close, the Tea Party looked like a truly national movement, racking up congressional seats and governor’s mansions not just in traditionally red states like South Carolina, but in the Northeast and Midwest as well.

And yet, twelve months later, the Tea Party’s power seems to be melting away in much of the country. Tea Party-supported governors in states like Maine and Wisconsin find themselves beset by controversy over their radical agendas and incredibly unpopular with voters. Meanwhile the broader movement, once deemed unstoppable, seems to be running out of gas.

As Colin Woodard explains in the upcoming November/December issue of the Washington Monthly, this was predictable. The Tea Party’s agenda and credo may have struck a brief chord nationwide, but they are only truly at home in certain regions of the country, like the Deep South, that have historic affinities for such politics. In other regions, the movement’s tenets are anathema to centuries-old social, political, and cultural traditions that few of us fully understand.

In his piece, Woodard illuminates a hidden political geography of America, dividing the country into 11 distinct regions whose radically different characters have always set the terms of national politics and always made extremist movements a tough sell. Understanding these regions, he argues, will be key if progressives want to form a winning coalition going forward.

Read Woodard’s story “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party.”

Also note, Woodward will be talking about his book at the Arizona State University Washington Center in DC tonight. Those interested can RSVP here.

And for more on the subject matter, Michael Lind and Ed Kilgore had an interesting debate recently about whether the Tea Party is or is not a fundamentally Southern phenomenon. Lind makes the case for Tea Partiers’ limited regional appeal, while Kilgore argues it has broader appeal. The Woodard piece largely points to a middle ground.

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.