A fascinating New York Times op-ed from scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell uses survey data from 2006 and earlier this summer to explain the Tea Party’s newfound unpopularity. The Tea Party, they claim, was not born from the Great Recession — rather, its supporters were brought together by their social conservatism and desire to see religion integrated into politics. This religious fervor, which drives the popularity of candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, will be the Tea Party’s downfall, at least according to Putnam and Campbell.
“It is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose,” they explained. “While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics. It thus makes sense that the Tea Party ranks alongside the Christian Right in unpopularity.”
This conclusion isn’t entirely new. Last fall, the Public Religion Research Institute released a report, showing that nearly half of the Tea Party identified with the Christian conservative movement. In the press release, PRRI observed, “They are mostly social conservatives, not libertarians on social issues. Nearly two-thirds (63%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and less than 1-in-5 (18%) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.”
And after attending two years of Tea Party functions, The Awl’s Abe Sauer concludes: “I finally know what the Tea Party wants: A Christian nation.”
If the Tea Party is on the decline, that’s good news for people who don’t see a Christian theocracy as a good future for the United States. But, as Sarah Posner observes at Religion Dispatches, it’s probably too early to trumpet the demise of the religious right, even if the Tea Party’s influence is beginning to fade. ”The ‘religious right is dead’ obituary is frequently written,” Posner writes, “but always turns out to be wrong.”
Photo from Fibonacci Blue via flickr.