Throughout the 2010 election, many pundits wondered if the Tea Party represented a new kind of conservative moment because its adherents cared more about economic issues than social ones. Because of the Tea Party’s focus on finances, these commentators theorized that the culture wars wouldn’t be galvanized when the new Congress and state officials took office. That was clearly incorrect, as we’ve seen repeatedly of late, between the attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding and the moves in many states to make abortion laws far stricter.
Now there’s a new Pew survey that shows, in fact, that the connections between the Tea Party and the religious right are stronger than was the prevailing perception. According to Pew, the Tea Party draws “disproportionate support” from white evangelical Protestants, and its members are far more likely to have conservative social views in addition to economic ones-and to cite their religion as the reason for those views. (Fifty-nine percent of Tea Partiers believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, a slightly higher figure than for all Republicans, 56 percent.)
But, curiously, “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.’ ” Another 42 percent had heard of and agree with the Christian right (about 10 points lower than the number of people who cited religion as a reason for their opposition to abortion), while just 11 percent actively expressed disagreement with the religious right (it was this very small minority within the party on whom the press focused intensely, because that was the combination of views that seemed new and different from earlier conservative revolutions). So perhaps the media can be forgiven a bit for not realizing the connection between this movement and the Christian right; it seems plenty of Tea Partiers themselves didn’t see a link, either.