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. latftp

    See the Tea Party as it really is, bigoted, ignorant and deceitful at LATFTP dot com

    October 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  2. PJ, Brookline, MA

    Yeah right, they are libertarians (like hell). Religious and intolerant freaks & frauds, that's what they are and what they've always been. They want the US Govt to monitor every pregnancy in the country while the corporations can run wild and do as they please.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  3. Rick

    I don't like either fringe, but with data like this, I MUST vote liberal just to keep the religious nuts from gaining absolute power. ( and I ain't liberal! )

    Otherwise, I would be Republican. Less government, HARD LINE on corruption, but with a humane and compassionate heart for ALL.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • latftp

      See the real Tea Party at LATFTP dot com

      October 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  4. An Intellectual

    The founding fathers were NOT Christian. They believed strongly in the separation of church and state. Where did religion suddenly come into politics? Why does it matter? It doesn't. The only reason religion should ever be involved in politics is if a politician is making decisions based on his or her PERSONAL religious beliefs. Some founding fathers were Deists. This means that they believed there is a God / Creator, but he/she is not involved in the daily activities of humans. -- "Lighthouses are more helpful than churches." – Benjamin Franklin. "The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession." – Abraham Lincoln. - "The Tea Party's Surprisingly Powerful Religious Side." Guess who else had a powerful religious side. David Koresh, Jim Jones, Richard the Lion Heart. The problem lies in that headline: 'Powerful religious . . . ' Both corrupt. The only word missing is 'money.' This country was never founded on Christianity or even religion for that matter. However, the religious beliefs of our leaders has become such an important issue to people that no one really tries to fix anything that is wrong with this country or this world. If religion continues to become a bigger issue with our leaders, we might as well move the president to Washington National Cathedral and turn the White House into a library.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • SoS

      While I agree with you that the founding fathers believed strongly in the separation of church and state, your argument that this makes them not Christian is incorrect. Research the founding fathers as inviduals and you will see that most of them, if not all, were very much Christians. Also keep in mind, that the founding fathers include more than the handful of names most people would think of. There are quite a few signatures on the Declaration of Independence, and all of these men are founding fathers of the United States.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • $!

      @sos - A few were Christians. I have researched this more than you would think. They were men who were part of the Enlightenment. The Age of Reason. The big names that people remember (Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine) were not. The whole point of it is that it didn't matter what their religion was and it still doesn't. They saw that people can have fanatical devotion to religion and did not want anyone like that running their country.

      October 6, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  5. Paul

    So....It's just a ploy to make evangelicals look less crazy?

    October 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  6. john316

    America needs to be protected "from" organized religion.....
    individual spirituality ....no problem.........
    organized religion.....is.... and has been bankrupt for a long time.......taxation might help curb its out of control power ...since we can't seem to get rid of it....

    October 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • CarefulThought

      John, you're way off. Organized religion, is wealthy. And the "we" who "can't seem to get rid of it" are the tiny minority of Americans who arrognatly are sure there is no outside force.

      October 5, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  7. CarefulThought

    It's majorly undeducated to think the US has no connection to Christiainity. The motto is "in God We Trust" That is carved on every building in Washington. To be a president, you have to swear on the Bible. And all governement offices are closed on Sunday, Easter and Christmas.

    It's hard to see that and then say, "oh, you're crazy if you think the US is a Christian nation."

    Certianly many people don't WANT it to be, and it may not always be, but you'd have to rewrite history to say it never was.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • ScottK

      It is uneducated to call the US a Christian nation when it was spelled out from the start in the first amendment "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"

      The definition of establishment:
      a. An arranged order or system, especially a legal code.
      b. A permanent civil, political, or military organization.
      An established social order, as:
      a. A group of people holding most of the power and influence in a government or society.
      b. A controlling group in a given field of activity.

      So if you believe in and want to protect the const itution then you should not now or every attempt to create an "arranged order or system, especially a legal code" based on any religion. And the Christian right should not be the "group of people holding most of the power and influence in a government or society".

      October 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  8. matt

    I have so little faith in humanity that I'm thinking of becoming a different species.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Darryl Blackshear

      will you taste good? Becaus we coud use another animal!!

      October 5, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  9. Jess

    NO Tea for ME!!!!!!!.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Liz

    the teabaggers say a lot of things that have no bearing on reality, and this is one of them. the founding fathers themselves stated in no uncertain terms that America is NOT a 'christian' nation. most of them were Deists, not Christians, and had a lot of very harsh things to say about religion. separation of church and state is not a myth, it's one of the foundations this country was built on. no amount of revisionism is going to change that. this is a secular country with a lot of Christians and a lot of other religions, too. that's not a problem unless you're an intolerant fundie who thinks everyone needs to fit into the very narrow mold you're in. we don't!

    October 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  11. warytraveler

    Get the hell out of the middle ages!

    October 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Daniel

      do not fight the power of the darkside... muhhaaahhaahhaa!
      The force is too strong, and the masses of minions can only understand things in terms of black and white, don't you know?
      It is much easier to control them this way... muhhaahhahhhaaa!

      October 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  12. Kevin P

    My favorite Tea-Party rally sign said "No Pubic Option."

    That is a harry choice...

    October 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • latftp

      See the "No Pubic Option" pic at LATFTP dot com

      October 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  13. Carl

    So, just being a christian nation makes us great? when? when we slaughtering the native americans to get their land? when we owned slaves? when we ran the std experiments in guatemala or tuskegee? when we behaved poorly to other religious sects as the muslims or jews? when has christianity done one good thing for this country? i always equate christian, nowadays when it is used in news stories, as being the equivalent of white. being white hasn't done much good for anybody of color. ever!

    October 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  14. Bulloch

    There are Christians in the US but the US is not Christian. If the US were Christian, we wouldn't be judging others for their lifestyle choices or invading other countries for personal vendettas.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • SaveUsJeebus

      Amen! *wink*

      October 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  15. Dan

    Love Ron Paul, Cynthia McKinny, Alex Jones...... but this "Co-Opted" "Tea Party" is just a bunch of folks that are being led around in a circus ring. Follow the money, know your enemy. "Give me liberty or give me death." -P.Henry

    October 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  16. Vulpes

    In other news – Fire is hot! This should be of no surprise to anyone no matter where you fall on political lines. To wit, as has been stated, we are a nation whose member identify themselves as Christian. A Christian nation would be one where are laws are directly based on the teaching of Christ. This clearly not the case as we allow the execution of criminals. Second, Sarah Palin ... really? Anyone who believes that any citizen in this country is not a real American and says so should not be in the political landscape at all.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Daniel

      but... but... Sarah Palin hunts, I want to have a beer with her, and she's hot!!
      She's got my vote, because she's just a good 'ole person, just like me.
      I don't want to vote for anyone smarter than me, because I won't be able to underatand what it is they are trying to do to me – like provide me healthcare. Shucks – I didn't ask for it, and now Imam Obama wants to shove healthcare down my throat.
      I'm votin' fur someone who is more like me, so I can understand issues in black versus white.

      October 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Phil

      Daniel: YEE-HAW!!! 🙂

      October 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Kevin P


      Since you're criteria for a good public office candidate is that they're "hot" Im not surprised at the logic that followed in the rest of your post.

      But I'll respond anyways, so hold on to the rope...

      Sarah Palin gets governemnt health-care. And quit her position to cash in by publishing books and getting $100,000 a speech. She can't "get your vote" since she is not currently running for office.

      I noticed you called President Obama "Imam." An Imam is a Muslim leadership figure, usually of a Mosque or some such group within an Islamic community. Which I'm going to furthur assume you used this reference since you probably watch Fox News eating pop-corn most nights and will tell me all about how Barack HUSSEIN Obama is a secret Muslim!" However when it was more convenient for Conservatives to paint him Christian during the Reverend White "scandal" you probably would have told all about how he's an Evil Christian.

      If theres anything in your post that rings true its that you see things in "black and white." I'll bet you do.

      Its too bad Obama wants to give people like you health care. If he didnt maybe you'd all die off faster and the worlds IQ would increase as a result.

      October 5, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  17. rock francis

    The Tea party is wrong. Parts of Europe is based on Christianity, The United States of America is a country based on freedom including Freedom of Religion. We the people are Christians and more. We dont discriminate, we evaluate the rights that the people from diifferent countries, different cities, and differnt beliefs. We, America, need to open up differences and difficulties. That's what makes us strong

    October 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Luke

    Your last line is bitterly ironic, given the state of the Tea Party and its divisive agenda.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  19. Rick McDaniel

    America was founded by religious misfits, from Europe. Not a lot has changed.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  20. Daniel

    Tea Party guiding principals for America:
    1. English only.
    2. Close the borders and stop the immigration process.
    3. One religion = Christianity.
    4. Clean up you mess behind yourself.
    5. Do unto others as they do unto you, even if that means shooting them in the back of the head with a nine mm.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Vulpes

      You forgot: 6.) You can never be too ignorant or stupid to be loved by the tea party (Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell ... )

      October 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • latftp

      See Tea Party ignorance and bigotry at LATFTP dot com

      October 5, 2010 at 2:09 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.