Most Tea Partiers call America a Christian nation, study finds
October 5th, 2010
10:33 AM ET

Most Tea Partiers call America a Christian nation, study finds

Members of the Tea Party movement tend to be Christian conservatives, not libertarians, and are more likely than even white evangelical Christians to say the United States is a Christian nation, a detailed new study has found.

More than half of self-identified Tea Party members say America is a Christian nation, while just over four out of 10 white evangelicals believe that - the same as the proportion of the general population that says so.

"We found actually that among the Tea Party, rather than being libertarians, at least on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, they're actually social conservatives," the survey's lead author, Robert Jones, said Tuesday.

Despite the headlines the Tea Party movement has generated with their candidates upsetting mainstream Republican candidates in primary races from Delaware to Nevada, it is only half the size of the Christian conservative movement, Jones said.

"We found that the Tea Party movement makes up a significant number. One in 10 Americans consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement, that's not insignificant," he said. "But it is half the size of those who consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement or the religious right," he said.

The details come from the American Values Survey, released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Read an analysis of the results by the institute's CEO and research director

Some findings from the telephone survey of more than 3,000 Americans confirm the conventional wisdom.

Tea Party members are big fans of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and not so hot on President Barack Obama.

They're much more likely than the general population to trust Fox News most - almost six out of 10 say it's their most trusted source of news, more than twice as many who say that among Americans as a whole.

A former speechwriter for George W. Bush said the emergence of the Tea Party movement reflects the latest development in a long-running conflict.

"We used to have culture wars on abortion and the nature of family," said Michael Gerson, who is now a Washington Post columnist.

"I think we're in the middle of a culture war, just as vicious, on the role and size of government and I think these results are consistent with that," he told a packed house at the Brookings Institution in Washington, where the report was unveiled Tuesday.

The Tea Party is not simply a movement of white evangelicals, the survey found by digging deeper into the specific beliefs of both groups.

The religious beliefs of Tea Partiers tend to be more traditional than those of the general population, but less so than white evangelicals'.

Pollster Robert P. Jones releases the results of a new study at the Brookings Institution.

Nearly half of Tea Partiers believe the Bible is the literal word of God, for example. One in three Americans overall believes that, while nearly two in three white evangelicals do.

Tea Partiers are much more likely than white evangelicals or Americans in general to think that minorities get too much attention from the government.

Almost six in 10 Tea Partiers believe that, while fewer than four in 10 white evangelicals say so. Figures for white evangelicals and Americans in general on that question are statistically identical.

But Tea Party opinions of immigrants line up with those of white evangelicals, with just under two out of three in each group saying immigrants are a burden on the U.S. "because they take jobs, housing and health care."

Just under half of the population as a whole says that.

The head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said he was not surprised that there's both agreement and disagreement between the Tea Party and white evangelicals.

"Opposition movements tend to draw very broadly. When it gets to the specifics of governance there's going to be some big contrast," Albert Mohler Jr. told CNN.

"I think those areas of natural overlap are understandable but the issues of contrast are going to be unavoidable," he said.

Libertarians - who oppose government intervention in people's personal lives - will not see eye to eye with evangelicals on abortion or same-sex marriage, he said.

"Very few evangelicals would say the government has no role in these issues," he said.

The Public Religion Research Institute report, "Religion and the Tea Party in the 2010 Election: An Analysis of the Third Biennial American Values Survey," is based on telephone polling of a national random survey of 3,013 adults between September 1 and 14.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Politics • Polls • Sarah Palin • United States

soundoff (766 Responses)
  1. Steve

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Gandhi

    October 5, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  2. fromCali36

    @ModerateAmerican – As the motto in God we trust may not had been nationalized until 1956 it has been on some of our currency (1864 2 cent coin and 1866-83 5 cent nickel) since 1864 so it's hardly a cold war propaganda tool.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Akira

      The first instance of "In God We Trust" on money was the result of a Christian revival that took place during the 1850's-60's. The second instance during the 1950's was likely a reaction to the Red Scare, and Americans' fear of the Soviet Union.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  3. William Butler

    More hysterical nonsense from the liberals I see. "Oh no, the big bad Christian boogeymen are going to take over our country! Whatever shall we do!!!" Is there ANYONE here who can give me a sane argument against the tea party, or is this forum just a place to spew your (non)intellectual vomit?

    October 5, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes. They get support from people with the intelligence of Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell, and Michelle Bachmann.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  4. Joseph D

    When will people stop trying to put a lebal on what type of religion our country is? Why does it matter if your christian, catholic or muslium? What truely matters is how you plan on fixing this weak economy and stop cutting taxes for the 1% of americans that dont need anymore tax cuts. Everyone knows the middle class is what makes the economy strong and for EVERYONE go out and give back to your community and do it even if your not religious. It's time we remove religion from our political talks and start focusing on the true issues at hand and not if our president is black, muslium or christian because personally I can care less who he prays what I care about are his political views and policys

    October 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  5. George

    Is it me, or is CNN in deep love with the Tea baggers? Maybe its a ratings thing, but your gonna have to make your tea a lot more reactionary, if you want the baggers to drink yours over the FOX brand. It seems though, that you are well on your way.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  6. AJ

    Most tea Partiers are morons.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  7. What?

    Are tea partiers saying we have a Jew problem?

    October 5, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  8. Jeff

    This isn't the Tea Party - this is the Religious Right. They've hijacked our movement to return common sense to government spending into a perversion of the Republican parties extreme elements. We don't give a darn about race, religion, or immigration. We only wanted limits on government spending, federal gov't growth, and reduction in taxes and pork barrel politics.

    What the heck has happened to the original leadership and ideals of the Tea Party? This is nothing like our Contract with America! Come on people! Take back the Tea Party from the Religious Right! Do not let them take over the movement!

    October 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  9. Terry - Indiana

    Well guess what, that is exactly why I walked out of a rally. These bible bangers, at least the ones I met, are bigots. I guess if I worked at CNN I would be fired, but the truth hurts. At the next Tea Party Rally in your area, count the Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Gays and Lesbians, guess what, you can stop looking. America is the world's melting pot of many good people, just looking for freedom from oppression. Guess what the Tea Party wants, a free, white, christian America. Good grief, they sound like the Taliban.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  10. Poindexter

    I'm a christian and think the teabaggers are a bunch of lunatics.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  11. Dave

    If God existed the very first thing he would do is send every Tea Party supporter to hell for ignoring the red words in the Bible.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  12. Mike

    Whether or not they think the US in a Christian country is a moot point. The United States is a secular nation founded on secular principles. Religion should not be talked about in terms of politics. Period.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • William Butler

      Unless you think reining in out of control government spending and keeping taxes low is a religious position, then you've got the wrong party. On the other hand, maybe Obama should follow your advice and quit doing things like the "Matthew 25 Project" to make people think he's a Christian.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Mrpete

      I agree 100 % Mike. This is all about liberals being afraid of the Teaparty so they will bash it anyway they can. I happen to think Democrats have more racist than the Teaparty. I really dont care if Obama is a muslim either.He was born into it.No big deal.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  13. Joshua Ludd

    Teabaggers are ignorant religious kooks who feel they, being white, are an oppressed minority.

    October 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • William Butler

      That's completely false. Tea party members tend to be better educated and wealthier than the average American citizen. As far as the "oppressed minority" comment is concerned, that would be the domain of the democrat party, who regularly race baits hispanics and african-americans into thinking they are being oppressed so they will turn out and vote for them.

      I think maybe you are projecting a little bit.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  14. Grain of Salt

    Obviously the whole Christian thing is a smokescreen as the Tea Party truly wants to make Wiccan the national religion. Soon we'll all be bathing in blood inside our pentagrams. Since the poster child for the tea party forgot how to pay taxes, and wants to lead by example, I would expect the IRS to be dissoved immediately upon Christine's Satan fortold inauguration as president, and we can all stop paying all tyes of taxes. As the social structure supported by tax revenue breaks down, citizens will begin defending themselves more vigorously, and as the economy collapses we wil turn to cannibalism. Satans victory will be complete. All because of the Tea Party, Christine, and the liberal media giving her way too much attention and air time.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Akira

      "Bathing in blood inside our pentagrams"? Sounds as though you know less about Wicca than you do about the Tea Party.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  15. Craig

    Hey Teabaggers ... I'm an educated, 7th GENERATION American whose family has a very strong history of military service in defense of this country. I also happen to be an atheist. Listen to me carefully; this is not exclusively a Christian nation, and many of us do not want laws and policies based in Christian theology ... just like we don't want laws and policies based in Islamic theology. You WILL NOT take my freedom and you CAN NOT have MY country!

    October 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • Sgt. Joe

      Well stated, Craig! I couldn't agree more. My family also has a long military history and I completly recent these fake "patriots" like Palin, etc. spewing their vile in our faces. They have no right to dictate who's "really American". We are all Americans and we have all fought for our freedom (including the right to choose our religion or chose not to subcribe to one at all). The pompous people are an embarrassment to our country. They will not take my country "back" or anywhere else.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • Brian

      Couldn't have said it any better myself, Craig.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Mrpete

      Craig, Thanks for you service and being a real American. I have never seen or heard the Teaparty being only one religion.As a matter of fact the Teaparty thinks goverment should stay out of your life and let you live the life you choose.Not like the crap we have coming out of Washington now. People believe all this crap because the media tells them so. How many people do you personaly know that are in the Teaparty?

      October 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • Observer

      @Craig and Sgt. Joe,

      First of all, THANK YOU for your service to America. It's great to hear from brave service people that don't subscribe to the right-wing propaganda that if you oppose anything they want, then you are "unpatriotic". We are all Americans in spite of airheads that are delusional enough to pretend we aren't. We all want what is best for our country and people like you are making that possible. Thank you.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  16. William Butler

    Mark W – That's completely false. The tea party has taken no religious position whatsoever. The liberal hacks here are just using their disdain for Christianity to attack the Tea Party members and paint a broad brush over a group of people. But we'll see who has the last laugh in November.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Andrew

      Wait wait wait, did you just say "liberal hacks with a disdain for Christianity" and THEN proceed to complain about people "painting a broad brush"?

      Really? I have no problem with Christianity, and have nothing but respect for people like Charles Townes or Freeman Dyson, people who believe but don't let it interfere with the way they process facts. But the Tea Party actually did nominate a woman who denies evolution citing the truly absurd reason "if humans came from monkeys, why do monkeys still exist?" (Akin to "if Americans came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?"), and did run an anti-masturbation campaign. That's a fairly large degree of separating religion from reality.

      That's not a hatred for Christianity, that's a hatred for particular fundamentalist Christians who put their faith above reason, facts, and evidence. That's a hatred for the people who say "The founding fathers were all Christian and intended this to be a Christian nation", (despite quite quite strong evidence to the contrary, such as the unanimously ratified Treaty of Tripoli's article 11)

      By saying that we have a hatred for Christianity, you're painting just as broad a straw man stroke as you accuse others of doing. And "liberal hacks"? Really? Is basic tact and respect really all that difficult for you? Aren't you supposed to be the one with "good Christian morals and values" and me be the "evil liberal atheist"? Lets avoid calling everyone who disagrees with you a "hack".

      PS: Dyson fills me with joy, his Dyson sphere is a marvelously fun concept for species survival... though I'd miss the warm sunny days.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  17. T. Philip

    America used to be a Christian nation founded on Biblical principles, but sadly it has become more secular and anti-Christian let alone a Christian nation. There are some countries in Africa which are truly founded on Christian principles and blessings prosperity are evident as a result of such a stand.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • William Butler

      T.Philip – I agree with you. I actually see America as a "post-Christian" nation where many of its citizens are like the crazies you see posting here with their hateful, anti-Christian rhetoric.

      It's one of the reasons why our country is one the decline and will end up being a third rate nation that is bankrupt financially and spiritually.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Craig

      We also used to burn witches.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Observer

      The "Biblical" principles you are likely referring to have existed in societies long before the Bible. Pretending that the Bible has any ownership of them is nonsense. The Golden Rule predates the Bible.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Andrew

      ... Yeah cause "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" is so indicative that the US was founded on Christianity. Cause why would we let the words of the founding fathers get in the way of the picture you'd want to paint?

      It's not as though Jefferson had said, "Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."
      (Although to be fair that was just regarding Virginia)

      But he did also state, "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."
      I could get more Jefferson quotes but you get the idea... so what Madison?

      In his entire "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment" he makes a very strong (albeit religious) case against any state sponsored religion.

      Or what about John Adams?
      "Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."

      But hey, again, why should we let what the founding fathers actually said get in the way of what you think the founding fathers meant?

      October 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  18. steve

    get it right . . .

    October 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • allanhowls

      No, Steve, they really don't. I've had this conversation more than once. They think that America was founded by evangelical literalists. They believe that the social values they hold now are replicas of beliefs held by the founding fathers; eternally immutable.

      History, of course, shows that this is not the case. No matter, they say, we were founded by Christians, and therefore Christianity holds a special and privileged place on the Big American Stage. This is why they get so all-fired upset about anyone saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," and why they see no problem in equating Islam with terrorism, while ignoring Christianity's own longstanding history of violence against dissenters, heretics, and anyone different.

      Spin the issue all you like, but talking to the real people reveals something quite different indeed.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  19. Mrpete

    The Teaparty is not about religion. The real Teaparty was started in 1773. The democrats will call anyone or anything they don't like racist. To me it is about smaller goverment and less taxes and the dems are about taxing us to death.I don't care what the media tries to make it out to be I can think for myself.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • Mark W

      The Tea Party can be about anything you want. It can be about magical ponies and unicorns if you want. The fact of the matter is though, as MEMBERS OF THE ORGANIZATION HAVE POINTED OUT, they believe America is a CHRISTIAN nation. THEY'RE the ones who are waving signs and bringing Religion into the debate, not the Marxist left-wing media.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • allanhowls

      Mrpete, this isn't about what the big, bad media make it out to be. This is what the Tea Party members THEMSELVES identify it as being. They see something which is both demonstrably untrue and patently un-American.

      Please continue to blame liberals for the faults of your fellow followers. It just goes to show how you miss the real issues at hand. You may well be able to think for yourself, but there's a strong herd mentality going on, and it's heading in very much the wrong direction. If you can't see the potential pitfalls in these fallacious beliefs, your party will quickly be headed down the tubes.

      If you want to debate about the signs that the ralliers carry, or their beliefs that the entire nation be lockstep behind one religion, then you'll be on topic. Until then, stop blaming the press for reporting what the Tea Partiers say with their own mouths.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Mrpete

      Some findings from the telephone survey of more than 3,000 Americans confirm the conventional wisdom--So says the liberal rag. I know plenty of people that are for the Teaparty and it is about goverment not religion. I may not be religious but I say go Teaparty. We need a cleanup in Washinton real bad on both sides.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  20. smiley81

    thre is no such thing as a christian nation. a nation in itself cannot be anything

    October 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.