The Theology of the Tea Party

There is a new poll out this week from the Public Religion Research Institute that shows that 47 percent of the Tea Partiers also identify as Christian Conservatives or members of the Religious Right.

The upshot? Tea Partiers are not the people sometimes described by the media as libertarians, political independents, voters interested primarily in economic issues. Rather, they are largely social conservatives who favor government intervention on issues like gay marriage and abortion. They are mostly Republican, and their interests stretch far beyond taxes and spending.

White evangelicals are the most prominent religious “denomination” in the poll. Catholics are not prominent among Tea Partiers; they are about 14 percent of the identifiers, much less than the Catholic percentage of the general population, which runs between 20 percent and 24 percent.

One of the most troubling findings of the poll is the fact that nearly two-thirds of the Tea Partiers say that “it is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.” They are apparently not concerned about the growing economic inequality in this country that threatens our economic future, and our democracy.

Two other findings jumped out for me: 58% of Tea Partiers say that the government “has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities.” And almost two-thirds say that “immigrants are a burden on the country.” None of the analysts to whom I spoke characterized the Tea Party per se as “racist,” but they do say that there are racist “strains” in the mix of members.

We did three interviews on this subject for "Interfaith Voices" this week: with Robert Jones, chief author of the poll analysis and report; Billie Tucker, a member of the Tea Party and a Christian conservative, and Sarah Posner, who has reported on the Tea Party since 2009.

To hear these interviews, go to: They will be posted Friday, Oct. 15.

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