The Tea Party movement has weak ties to evangelicals and the religious right, even though much of its rhetoric shares some commonality with religious conservatives, according to research presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Las Vegas in August, which RW attended.
In a survey of 1,800 Tea Party groups, Tina Fetner (McMaster University) and Brayden King (Northwestern University) found that the movement does not have strong ties to the religious right or to evangelical churches. Counties with large numbers of evangelicals showed no special association with the movement; in fact, the more churches there are in a county tends to crowd out Tea Party involvement. The most important predictive factor for whether a county had a large percentage of Tea Party involvement was whether it had a conservative history with a high voting rate for President George W. Bush and a high rate of foreclosures and bankruptcies and other indicators of economic inequality.
In another paper, however, John Bartkowski of the University of Texas at San Antonio found that along with economic and political grievances, there were also cultural issues that included religion in the movement, at least on the level of rhetoric used by its leadership. Bartkowski examined 77 Tea Party websites and found that 63 percent referred to religious grievances, the third-highest category after political (81 percent) and economic (78 percent) grievances. These religious elements could be explicit, citing God or Jesus, or generic, mentioning “creator,” or they could be more veiled, stressing, for instance, “traditional family values” that would draw in religious right sympathizers.
Bartkowski said that the websites show how religious rhetoric “is very cleverly woven into the tapestry of this movement.” Some sites “hedged their bets” and stressed inclusivity on one page with veiled references to conservative religious themes on another. Bartkowski concluded that the Tea Party represents the “new Christian lite,” building alliances with religious conservatives, but not identified with the religious right.