'Tea Party’s Christian ties will alienate Jewish voters'

Reform leader contends Jews already wary of movement; Survey shows movement’s members think America is a Christian nation.

October 7, 2010 02:52
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Cicilline 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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WASHINGTON – Members of the surging Tea Party movement, which has already swung several key primary votes its way, are strongly identified with Christian conservatives and see the US as a Christian nation, according to a new survey.

The results suggest that the movement – decentralized and grassroots though it may be – is largely composed of and in line with Republicans rather than representing a new voter pool.

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Nearly half of those who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement (47 percent) also identify as Christian conservatives, as do 57% of Tea Party Christians.

Three-quarters are Republican or lean Republican, and 83% plan to vote for Republican candidates this election cycle.

Tea Partiers surveyed largely agreed with Republicans and Christian conservatives on abortion, gay rights and immigration, and – at 55% – actually thought that American was a Christian nation in higher numbers than the two other groups.

Robert Jones, who heads the organization – the Public Religion Research Institute – that conducted the poll, pointed to this characterization of the United States for a clue as to Tea Party views on international issues; but he noted that those issues hadn’t been included in the survey.

Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, who participated with Jones in a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution Tuesday on the survey, said that almost no foreign policy questions had been asked in any of the polls of Tea Party members, so it was difficult to assess their attitudes.

E.J. Dionne, the senior fellow at Brookings and Washington Post columnist who moderated the session, surmised that many Tea Party supporters tended to be more isolationist than others in the GOP, which has recently favored a heavy assertion of American military power abroad.

“There’s a possibility that some chunk of the Tea Party are more non-interventionist, and you’re seeing that in terms of some of their supporters in the Congress, but we don’t have enough data yet,” he said.

“My hunch is you’re going to see a debate inside the Republican party over the next couple of years where the non-interventionists... will probably have more voice now than they’ve had for the last 10 years.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Washington office of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said it was telling that there was so little data as well as Tea Party activity on international issues.

“It shows at best that they’re just not concerned about foreign policy issues and, at worst, [that] they’re isolationists and would like to see American focus more on domestic issues,” he argued.

Saperstein contended that the results of the new survey and the high identification of the Tea Party with Christian conservatives would be alienating to Jewish voters already wary of the movement.

“The primary concern that many in the Jewish community had was [the Tea Party’s] overt opposition to government playing a central role in addressing the urgent problems in our society,” he said of a demographic that traditionally votes overwhelmingly Democrat.

“The traditional antipathy that the Jewish community has had toward the religious Right will add to its distrust of the Tea Party movement,” he concluded, referring to the poll results showing overlap between the two groups.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, did not respond to a request for comment for this story. In the past, however, he told The Jerusalem Post last month, people in the Tea Party “have been strongly pro-Israel and strong on defense.”

While the poll results dispute his contention at that time that Tea Party followers are “by and large not social conservatives,” the Brookings panel agreed that social issues were not a priority for the movement and unlikely to be major factors in the election.

The place where Tea Party activists and Christian conservatives differed most was on issues of the role of government and fairness.

While 83% of Tea Partiers agreed that “government has gotten bigger because it’s doing things that should be left to individuals,” only 66% of Christian conservatives felt similarly. And while only 46% of the latter agreed that it’s “not that big of a problem if some people have more of a chance than others in life,” 64% of Tea Party adherents thought otherwise.

Overall, the poll found that 11% of the US population see themselves as part of the Tea Party movement. But, the panel said, that number belies the significance the movement is due to have on the midterm elections.

According to Jones, in total upwards of a third of the country sympathizes with the movement even if only one in 10 consider themselves part of it. The panel noted that those involved also have a strong commitment to political engagement at a time when liberals and Democrats are less enthusiastic. The difference can make a significant impact on midterm Congressional elections, which draw a small percentage of the electorate.

The telephone poll of 3,013 was conducted by land line and cellphone during the first two weeks of September. It has a +/- 2 percentage-point margin of error for the general sample.

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