Planned Parenthood showdown could reveal true nature of tea party
If tea party Republicans stick to plans to defund Planned Parenthood – even at the cost of a government shutdown – it would raise questions about whether the movement is driven more by small government ideals or classic Republican 'values' issues.
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A February survey by the Pew Research Center offers insight into Mr. Hecker's comments. While social conservatives generally support the tea party, the reverse is not always true. "Many people who support the tea party are unfamiliar with or uncertain about the religious right," write Scott Clement and John Green, authors of the Pew study, "The Tea Party, Religion and Social Issues."Skip to next paragraph
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"Forty-six percent of tea party supporters said they hadn't heard of or had no opinion on the religious right," they write.
An unscientific survey by the Hot Air website in November gives further clues about the priorities of core tea party supporters: 72 percent of respondents (all self-described tea partyers, conservatives, or libertarians) said they would support fiscal conservatism even if it led to a more socially liberal culture.
Similarly, a new Pew poll suggests Mitt Romney, a fiscally conservative but socially moderate Republican, polls better among tea party supporters than any other GOP presidential candidate, with 24 percent backing.
How tea partyers and social conservatives overlap
But since the election, the tea party message has been transformed both from the inside and outside, with more faith groups using tea party-type language, and some groups like Texas-based TeaParty.org and the Iowa Tea Party bucking tea party traditions by embracing social issues as part of their stated agendas.
Critics say Republican targeting of Planned Parenthood shows that the tea party is just a new incarnation of the traditional "values" driven Republican.
In truth, the resonance of issues like Planned Parenthood might simply show the demographic overlap that exists between social conservatives and the tea partyers, according to a survey by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society in Fayetteville, Ark.
Some 85 percent of members of tea party groups are self-identified Christians, 37 percent of whom are Biblical literalists, according to the survey. Moreover, 24 percent of members of tea party groups say that abortions should be available to all women as a choice, compared with 41 percent of non-tea partyers.
"The question is: What's really driving them? Is it budget stuff? Is it social issues? Is it anti-Obama, is it race?" says Maxwell. "This is a very, very consistent group of people. It's like you've taken a piece of the population out that's all so similar, so it's not surprising that they would have very consistent values on a lot of things."
She suggests that tea party could still succeed as a protest movement, even if it embraces a broader coalition of groups. But if tea party politics turns out to be nothing but the religious right in disguise, the tea party's base could fracture, damaging the party's brand at a critical time, she adds.
In any case, it might be in the GOP's interests to pick a fight with Democrats, no matter what the underlying ideology. "The Republican party can move further to the right to accommodate what the tea party wants" and risk a shutdown, or it could move toward the center and join with Democrats to pass a compromise budget, adds budget analyst Stan Collender in a recent blog post. "Allowing or forcing a shutdown to occur may be just what the leadership needs to do to demonstrate its commitment to the tea party’s preferred policies and style."