Less Than Half of Evangelicals Are Tea Partying

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a new analysis of religion and the Tea Party. The whole thing is an interesting read and offers solid evidence for the religious forces driving the movement. Sara Posner and Mark Silk have offered their takes on the findings.

One thing jumped out to me:

Surveys from November 2010 through February 2011 show that white evangelical Protestants are roughly five times as likely to agree with the movement as to disagree with it (44% vs. 8%), though substantial numbers of white evangelicals either have no opinion or have not heard of the movement (48%).

If my math is right, less than half of evangelicals agree with the Tea Party and the rest either don’t care or actively disagree. This is important because while Pew has ample evidence to prove that most Tea Partiers are also part of the religious right (read conservative evangelicals), the majority of evangelicals are not affiliated with the Tea Party. So, Tea Party rhetoric, Tea Party leadership, and Tea Party activists must always be contextualized as a (sizable) minority within American evangelicalism.

When we hear Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachmann invoking their evangelical street cred we have to remember that half of the folks in churches on Sunday morning don’t care about, don’t know, or don’t like them.

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3 Comments on “Less Than Half of Evangelicals Are Tea Partying”

  1. JNR says:

    52% have not heard/no opinion, or disagree; 48% agree. Since most Americans aren’t political junkies and the Tea Party makes most of its news in Cable and the web these numbers are not surprising. But since white evangelicals are the largest faction of the GOP, this means that Teavangelicals have a lot of influence in the Tea Party. Mark (Silk) and I have been talking about this since the Tea Party started: it is not Libertarian (whatever that means), it is a weird mix of several conservatives elements making up for some uber-inconsistent conservatism.

    • Michael J. Altman says:

      I agree with you and Mark Silk about the inconsistent and schizophrenic conservatism of the TP (see my latest post on Huck’s praise of Obama for an example) but I do think it’s important to note that the influence between the Tea Party and American evangelicalism runs in one direction. Conservative evangelicals are having a huge impact on the Tea Party but the Tea Party’s influence on the mainstreams of evangelicalism is quite diluted. Silk makes this point when he asks for church attendance numbers on TPers. I really want to know what kinds of evangelicals are Tea Partying-what Christian authors are they reading, what denominations are they from, are they megachurchers or small rural church members, what’s the gender demographics?

      A lot of the Tea Party politicians are representing themselves as speaking as evangelicals and, to some extent, for evangelicals despite that fact that many evangelicals are rather disinterested with them. It reminds me of the older contrast between Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. Both were evangelicals but how they applied their evangelical Christianity to the politics looked very different. If the Tea Party is the Jerry Falwell’s Christian Coalition 2.0 then I think we need to ask what those 52% of “Billy Graham” evangelicals not in the Tea Party are up to.

      So, I guess I’m asking the political scientists to ask more religious studies questions.

      • JNR says:

        When pigs fly political scientists will ask more religious studies questions (sad reality), unless I win the lottery and can finance a mega study, I’ll invite you. First, I need to play, though.

        You said “[c]onservative evangelicals are having a huge impact on the Tea Party but the Tea Party’s influence on the mainstreams of evangelicalism is quite diluted” and I think you’re right. I think it is the undisciplined nature of the Tea Party to blame. Politically active evangelicals in the Tea Party are more “coherent” and have better organizational skills and so can dominate the agenda or influence heavily such an amorphous group.

        As for this “A lot of the Tea Party politicians are representing themselves as speaking as evangelicals,” I did a quick analysis of the composition of the 112th Congress in January, and it’s interesting how membership changed with the newcomers. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/eMPSfC

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