The Tea Party, Religion and Social Issues

Feb 23, 2011

The Tea Party movement clearly played a role in rejuvenating the Republican Party in 2010, helping the GOP take control of the House of Representatives and make gains in the Senate. Tea Party supporters made up 41% of the electorate on Nov. 2, and 86% of them voted for Republican House candidates, according to exit polls. But the precise nature of the Tea Party has been less clear. Is it solely a movement to reduce the size of government and cut taxes, as its name -- some people refer to it as the Taxed Enough Already party -- implies? Or do its supporters share a broader set of conservative positions on social as well as economic issues? Does the movement draw support across the religious spectrum? Or has the religious right "taken over" the Tea Party, as some commentators have suggested?

A new analysis by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Tea Party supporters tend to have conservative opinions not just about economic matters, but also about social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In addition, they are much more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that their religion is the most important factor in determining their opinions on these social issues. And they draw disproportionate support from the ranks of white evangelical Protestants.

The analysis shows that most people who agree with the religious right also support the Tea Party. But support for the Tea Party is not synonymous with support for the religious right. An August 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that nearly half of Tea Party supporters (46%) had not heard of or did not have an opinion about "the conservative Christian movement sometimes known as the religious right"; 42% said they agree with the conservative Christian movement and roughly one-in-ten (11%) said they disagree. More generally, the August poll found greater familiarity with and support for the Tea Party movement (86% of registered voters had heard at least a little about it at the time and 27% expressed agreement with it) than for the conservative Christian movement (64% had heard of it and 16% expressed support for it).

Read the full report, The Tea Party and Religion, on The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.

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