Shocker: Tea Partiers More Evangelical, Socially Conservative

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is out with a new poll and analysis that concludes that Tea Partiers are more conservative on abortion and same sex marriage than even Republicans, and that evangelicals are more likely than other religious groups to identify with the Tea Party.

For at least a year, I’ve been arguing that claims that the Tea Party doesn’t care about “social issues” or that its adherents aren’t religious are bunk. The Pew poll demonstrates the role of religion and social conservatism in the Tea Party movement and builds on the work of the Public Religion Research Institute, which did long-needed, groundbreaking work on the subject last fall.

When the Public Religion Research Institute came out with its survey of Tea Partiers last fall, it found significant overlap between the religious right:

“There is a significantly outsized proportion of white evangelical Christians in the tea party movement.” Those were the words of Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research, the polling firm that yesterday released the first comprehensive survey on the religious and theo-political beliefs of voters aligned with the tea party movement.

According to the survey, nearly half of all respondents who considered themselves part of the tea party movement also considered themselves part of the religious right. “Among the more than 8-in-10 (81%) who identify as Christian within the Tea Party movement,” the survey found, “57% also consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement.” One third of tea partiers are white evangelical Christians, Jones said the survey showed, compared to one in five voters in the general population. But one in three Republicans are white evangelical Christians, too, more proof that supporters of the tea party and the GOP — despite the tea party claims to be an outside force — share many of the same beliefs.

On religion, Pew finds, like PRRI did, that white evangelicals are the group most likely to agree with the Tea Party (and PRRI recently found they’re most likely to trust Fox News, too. Coincidence?):

Remember all that talk of the Tea Party as a secular movement? Only 15 percent of religious unaffiliated voters agree with the Tea Party.

Finally, on gay marriage and abortion:

Tea Party supporters also tend to take socially conservative positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. While registered voters as a whole are closely divided on same-sex marriage (42% in favor, 49% opposed), Tea Party supporters oppose it by more than 2-to-1 (64% opposed, 26% in favor). Similarly, almost six-in-ten (59%) of those who agree with the Tea Party say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, 17 percentage points higher than among all registered voters. Tea Party supporters closely resemble Republican voters as a whole on these issues.

Pew’s data shows Tea Party supporters may even be slightly more conservative than Republicans on these issues, and are more likely than all voters (and in the case of abortion, more likely than Republicans) to cite religion as the reason for their views. For example, 46% of Tea Party adherents cite religion as the prime influence on their abortion views, compared to 40% of Republicans.

That’s why no one should be surprised by the assault on reproductive rights taking place in the Tea Party-heavy Republican-controlled House. As David Sessions notes in a post at Patrol magazine, titled “House of Theocons“:

Today, the undercovered story of the 2010 midterm elections became clear: Americans have elected the most politically and theologically fundamentalist House of Representatives in modern history. When Tea Partiers insisted their goal was attacking the deficit and government spending they weren’t lying. But when they submerged their long histories of social conservative activism—some of it incredibly radical—they were hiding a crucial part of themselves.

We had warning signs, of course — ones that largely went unheeded. When Kate Zernike reported in the New York Times in March 2010 that Tea Party leaders “deliberately avoid discussion of issues like gay marriage or abortion,” too many people understood that to mean that the Tea Party would govern from that vantage point too. Now we know it was just a campaign tactic, one that was all too credulously accepted.