Is the Tea Party Simply a Division of the Religious Right?

A new survey finds a striking resemblance to the prominent evangelical faction

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Giving the most comprehensive picture of the Tea Party yet, the Public Religion Research Institute has published new findings dissecting the faith identity of the grassroots movement that re-popularized the phrase "Don't Tread on Me." The survey notes that 47 percent of Tea Partiers consider themselves to be part of a "religious right or conservative Christian movement," 46 percent attend religious services once a week (10 percent higher than the general population), and nearly half of the movement believe the Bible is the literal word of God. While it's not surprising that many evangelical Christians joined up with the Tea Party movement, the survey appears to give quantitative weight to the notion that the Tea Party shouldn't be considered an entirely new and independent conservative entity.

  • There are Four Myths About the Tea Party that need to be dispelled, contend Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, the CEO and director of the research institute behind the poll. Here are the "four facts" they come up with after parsing the numbers: 1) The Tea Party movement shouldn't be considered a distinct entity from previous conservative movements. 2) "Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement make up just 11 percent of the adult population - half the size of the current conservative Christian movement (22 percent)." 3) Those "who identify with the Tea Party movement are mostly social conservatives, not libertarians on social issues." 4) Tea Partiers are not an independent political force: they are largely comprised of "Republican partisans."
  • The 'Most Detailed' Information About the Movement Yet The Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein outlines previously polls about the faith identity of the movement: "A Quinnipiac University poll last month asked basic demographic information, revealing that 20 percent of white evangelicals consider themselves part of the tea party movement. A Washington Post poll published Tuesday found more than half of all white evangelicals 'support or lean toward supporting the tea party.'" Experts are in disagreement as to what the Public Research Institute survey actually entails for the GOP: "With some saying it reveals serious fissures between social and fiscal conservatives and others saying the two movements can find common ground on subjects such as limiting public funding for abortion."
  • Tea Party Has Been 'Broadening' to Address Religious Concerns Andy Sullivan at Reuters quotes religious right expert Michael Lindsay, who explains: "The focus of the movement has changed to one that is much more in line with the full spectrum of conservative political issues," including addressing religious concerns which could "help unify Republicans before the Nov. 2 congressional elections."
  • Don't 'Pigeonhole' Tea Partiers argues Warren Mass at The New American. "Though the Tea Party is not a formal party like the Republican Party, to assert that because most Tea Partiers have Republican leanings means that there is little difference between the Tea Party and the GOP is also an overgeneralization. Most Americans hold mulitple social, political, and religious affiliations and seldom fit into a pigeonhole." The survey may "tell us much about what a certain percentage of Tea Party followers believe, they tell us little about why. The answer to that question would be much easier to determine if more Americans paid less attention to outmoded labels like liberal and conservative..."

  • Some Differences Between Evangelicals and Tea Partiers  Politics Daily's religion reporter David Gibson isn't quick to equate the Tea Party with the religious right, noting a few key differences: "Tea Partiers are somewhat less likely to attend church than white evangelicals and they are less likely to see the Bible as the literal word of God -- though they score higher on both measures than the overall U.S. population." Also, "Tea Partiers are also far more likely than white evangelicals to believe that "minorities get too much government attention" (58 to 38 percent)."
  • A Word of Caution About the Survey Hot Air's Allahpundit finds one head-scratching finding in the Public Religion Research survey: "This same survey finds that 54 percent of voters are more likely to support a candidate if he/she voted for ObamaCare. Hmmmm. On the other hand, WaPo’s new poll also found that more than half of white evangelicals support the tea party, which jibes with the fiscal con/social con overlap described in PRRI’s numbers. There’s no reason to be especially surprised at that...but with all the attention the movement’s gotten from libertarians, there’s a lingering question as to who really dominates when it comes to non-fiscal matters."
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