February 25, 2011
Evangelicals and Tea Party Overlap in Congress, Public
The tea party movement is a conservative grassroots movement that is more known for its views on taxes than social issues. There is, however, increasing evidence that the tea party movement's message resonates with evangelicals.
In July of 2010, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced a new tea party caucus in the House of Representatives. Bachmann, who is active among both social conservatives and the tea party movement, lined up about 50 Representatives to join the group.
This caucus is more evangelical than the rest of the House. About 45 percent of the caucus attend an evangelical church, compared to 13 percent of others in the House. Another 30 percent are mainline Protestants, mostly of a largely Southern variety. Several Mormons are also part of the caucus.
There are no African-Americans or Jewish members. The caucus is less likely to include Catholics, with only 15 percent who are members of the caucus compared to 32 percent of those who are not.
Nearly all members of Congress express some religious affiliation. Most, however, do not advertise their faith. The members of the tea party caucus do, however, with 43 percent discussing their religious beliefs or membership on their House websites. This is over twice as many as non-members. Just 21 percent of other Representatives provide any mention of their religion.
The overlap between religiosity, evangelicalism, and the tea party is not limited to Congress. A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that those who agree with the Tea Party are also socially conservative and religious. Among the religious groups in America, evangelicals are the most supportive of the movement.
Despite its influence in national politics, many Americans remain unaware of the movement. Among evangelicals, nearly half (48 percent) had no opinion or had not heard of the Tea Party. But among those evangelicals that have an opinion on the Tea Party, 84 percent said that they agree with the movement. No other religious tradition comes close to this level of support for the movement. Dan Gilgoff has provided a summary of other traditions at CNN's Belief Blog.
The Pew study suggests that the mix of religion and the tea party movement in Congress is not an accident: nearly all of those who agreed with Christian conservatives also agreed with the tea party.
Pew found that 73 percent of those who agree with the “conservative Christian movement” had heard of the tea party. Of these, 95 percent agreed with the tea party movement.
The real question, however, is whether the new tea party activists—those who have not been part of politics previously—see themselves as part of the Christian right. So far, the evidence points to Christian conservatives wanting to align themselves with the tea party even though many tea party activists have no interest in joining social conservatives.
In Congress, the tea party caucus is struggling to get any of the new Republican freshmen to join its group. Many of these freshmen ran as tea party candidates, but they are not joining the caucus. Among those in the public who agree with the tea party movement, nearly half have no opinion of the conservative Christian movement, according to Pew. Those that do tend to agree with the Christian conservative movement (80 percent).
Editor's Note: Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around 18 percent of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. Evangelicals are compared to all other Americans, including those who are not white. The religion of Members of Congress is based on self-reports, membership at local churches, and official biographies on Representatives' websites. Approximately 18 percent of Congressmen are evangelical in the 112th Congress.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.