Tea Party Tilts Toward The Religious Right, New Survey Finds

A new poll confirms what many observers have suspected for some time: The Religious Right and the Tea Party are more or less in sync.

The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that nearly half (47 percent) of Tea Party activists consider themselves part of the Religious Right. Tea Party supporters are also overwhelmingly Christian, with 81 percent identifying with that faith.

Although often described in the media as largely secular and libertarian, Tea Party supporters, according to this poll, share the Religious Right’s views on social issues. Sixty-three percent say abortion should be illegal, and only 18 percent favor civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The survey also found that the Tea Party, like the Religious Right, is heavily partisan, strongly leaning Republican. Seventy-six percent of activists say they belong to the GOP.

Observers of the Religious Right have noted an overlap between the two movements. September’s “Values Voter Summit,” sponsored by the Family Research Council, included Tea Party speakers and rhetoric favored by movement activists. (See “An Invitation To Tea,” September 2010 Church & State.)

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a reporter with National Public Radio, has also commented on the overlap. In a recent segment, Hagerty quoted John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, who pointed out that the Tea Party came along at just the right time.

“There was an opening on the right for organizations and candidates and groups that could appeal to different elements of the religious coalition,” Green said. “In many ways, the Tea Party has filled that niche.”

Tea Party activities are often promoted by the Religious Right. Last year, when the movement was in its infancy, the Tea Party was heavily plugged by the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association.

The new poll shows that about 11 percent of Americans identify with the Tea Party movement and that 22 percent say they are aligned with the Religious Right. (Other polls have put the latter number at 15-18 percent.)

The report, by Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, challenged common assumptions about the Tea Party – among them that this movement is distinct from the Religious Right.

“There is striking similarity between the demographic characteristics of Americans who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement and Americans who consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement,” Jones and Cox wrote.