Editor’s note: This is another in a series of monthly “WND/WENZEL POLLS” – polls conducted exclusively for WND by the public opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies.

A new poll reveals the tea party movement is four times as popular as Congress, which has an approval rating at a near-record low of 12 percent. The survey also includes a not-so-subtle warning to incumbents that they may be gone this fall.

“Nearly a year after they sprang to life in local groups across America, the so-called tea-party movement is winning acceptance from a wide swath of the electorate nationwide. Well over half of likely voters nationwide – a 56 percent – hold a positive impression of the movement, compared to just 30 percent who hold a negative opinion of it,” said Fritz Wenzel of Wenzel Strategies.

“This spells the beginning of a movement that is likely to continue its growth and influence. The intensity of positive opinion for this movement is remarkably strong as nearly half, 44 percent, hold a “very positive” opinion of the movement,” he said.

“What is impressive is that the movement not only survived that early onslaught of attacks last summer – being called an ‘astro-turf’ movement manufactured by insurance companies to oppose health care reform – but is actually thriving today,” he said.

The WND/Wenzel telephone survey was conducted Feb. 18–20 using an automated telephone technology calling a random sampling of listed telephone numbers nationwide. The survey included 30 questions and carries a 95 percent confidence interval. It included 747 likely voters. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.56 percentage points.

The poll shows voters are sending incumbents a warning right now.

Fifty-four percent of those who have a “very favorable” opinion of the tea party movement say they will vote for the challenger – any challenger – in November. One-third of those who hold a “somewhat favorable” opinion and four in 10 of those who hold a “very unfavorable” opinion will do the same.

While those who were not sure was a statistically high 33 percent of the total, 41 percent of respondents said they would support a challenger to only 26 percent for the incumbent.

The poll showed only 2.8 percent of Americans believe Congress’ job performance is excellent, including only 7.5 of Democrats whose party is the majority.

A whopping 59.8 percent of Americans, including 34.1 percent of Democrats and three of every four Republicans and independents, believe Congress’ job performance is poor.

However, the poll revealed 43.5 percent of Americans, including one in seven Democrats and 45 percent of the independents, have a “very positive” impression of the tea party movement.

Another 12.9 percent, including 12 percent of Democrats, have a “somewhat positive” view.

“Naturally, Republicans have much more affinity toward the movement than do Democrats, but what is most important to note is that a significant majority of Independent voters – 57 percent – hold a positive opinion of the movement,” Wenzel reported.

“As much as the political left may want to pretend this movement is nothing more than an insignificant number of malcontents, this latest polling screams another story. Opponents of the movement who ignore it or discount it do so at their own significant peril,” he said.

“This is particularly the case when the tea-party favorability rating of 56 percent is compared to the job approval of Congress, which now stands at a lower-than-paltry 12 percent positive. The Wenzel Strategies survey shows that, among those who have a ‘very favorable’ opinion of the tea-party movement, just 19 percent would vote for the incumbent congressman today in their own district,” he said.

“This 12 percent job approval rating for Congress is within spitting distance of the all–time low rating of 9 percent that Congress received during the tumultuous debate over comprehensive immigration reform in 2007,” he said.

The poll also shows President Obama’s job approval rating continuing to drop. Only 22 percent said it was excellent, compared to 42 percent who said it was poor.

In what should be another alarming indicator for incumbents, the poll showed that given a choice among progressive, Democrat, Republican and tea party affiliations, 33 percent of voters chose Democrat to 31.9 percent for the GOP, but 22.8 percent chose the tea party.

“The survey shows men are more likely to have a favorable opinion of the movement than are women, but even a majority of women – (52 percent) – have a positive opinion of it. This is important because, after the 2008 presidential election that was driven slightly more by women than by men, the male voter is again gaining consciousness,” Wenzel said.

“Last year, when the local tea parties started popping up all over the country in reaction to the Obama stimulus package and health care reform proposals, it was said that a sleeping conservative giant appeared to be waking up. This survey shows there is so much public support that it will likely not be lulled back to sleep anytime soon.”

He also noted that, “It is important to note that ‘independents’ are not necessarily ‘moderates,’ a common misconception – and the tea-party movement inspires a significantly different response between the two groups. Moderates are much less likely to consider the movement in a positive light – 42 percent of moderates have a positive impression, and 43 percent have a negative impression. This distinction is important because, the poll indicates, a lot of independent voters may be former Republicans who are not yet convinced that the GOP has learned its lessons after three years in the political wilderness.”

If you are a member of the media and would like to interview Fritz Wenzel about this story, please e-mail.

See detailed results of survey questions:

Thinking about the Tea Party movement that has developed over the past year or so, would you say that you have a positive or a negative impression of the movement?

Thinking about the country overall, would you say it is moving in the right direction, or is it off on the wrong track?

Thinking about President Obama, how would you rate his overall job performance?

Thinking about Congress as an institution, how would you rate its overall job performance?

Thinking of the current congressman or congresswoman in your own district, is that representative a Democrat or a Republican?

Regardless of what political party with which you may now be affiliated, if you had to choose to be a member of one of the following parties, which one would you choose – the Progressive Party, the Democrat Party, the Republican Party, or the Tea Party?

If the election were held today for Congress in your state or local district, and with all other factors being equal, for which candidate would you vote?

If the election were held today for the U.S. Senate in your state or local district, and with all other factors being equal, for which candidate would you vote?

Thinking about the upcoming election this November, are you more likely to vote for the current officeholder, or incumbent congressman, or to vote instead for the challenger?

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.