By Rob Boston
A new poll confirms what a lot of us have suspected for a while now: The Tea Party and the Religious Right are more or less in sync.
The poll, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that nearly half (47 percent) of Tea Party activists consider themselves part of the Religious Right. They are also overwhelming Christian, with 81 percent identifying with that faith.
And what about all of that talk about the Tea Party being heavily libertarian and composed mainly of secular conservatives who just want low taxes and less government spending? This survey casts doubt on that. Sixty-three percent say abortion should be illegal, and only 18 percent favor same-sex marriage.
Finally, like the Religious Right, the Tea Party is quite partisan, leaning heavily Republican. Seventy-six percent say they belong to the GOP.
Last month I attended the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit” here in Washington, D.C. It was essentially a Tea Party/Religious Right love fest. It’s clear that Religious Right leaders hope to harness the energy of the Tea Party movement and use it to help elect favored candidates and push its theocratic agenda.
NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty put together an interesting piece recently on the Tea Party and religion. 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.”
It’s also important to remember that some Religious Right groups helped the Tea Party grow. I first heard of the movement in 2009 through e-mails sent by the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association (AFA). The AFA sent so many of them that early on I made the mistake of assuming that the Tea Party was a project of that group.
The new poll shows that about 11 percent of Americans identify with the Tea Party movement – a number that tracks roughly with the number who say they belong to the Religious Right.
That may not seem like a lot, but remember this: These people are motivated and politically active. With so many Americans staying home on Election Day, a determined minority can have a disproportionate impact on the results.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once again: The Religious Right is not dead. In fact, that movement has just been given a new dose of vitality – thanks to a big cup of tea.