Being an atheist brings with it a certain amount of… disapproval… by the general public. It’s something that I, and many other atheists, have mentioned on more than one occasion. Polls regularly show that atheists are less electable to public office than Muslims and are often ranked as having the lowest approval ratings.
If you’re an atheist who’s been bummed that our popularity is in the toilet, here’s a bit of news that should help cheer you up: The Tea Party has a worse approval rating than Atheists.
Polls show that disapproval of the Tea Party is climbing. In April 2010, a New York Times/CBS News survey found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of it, 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Now, 14 months later, Tea Party supporters have slipped to 20 percent, while their opponents have more than doubled, to 40 percent.
Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.
Which is really weird when you think about it. The Tea Party seems to hold an inordinate amount of sway in the Republican party right now so why is it so unpopular with the general public ranking right down there with the Christian Right?
Probably because it’s more or less the Christian Right with new branding:
So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.
Scratch the average Tea Party member and you’ll find a far-right Christian fundamentalist working hard to move America towards a theocracy. Given this is it any surprise that the likes of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are doing so well in their bids to be the next President. At least among Republicans.
The silver lining in the cloud of the Tea Party’s dominance of the Republicans is that it may very well keep them out of the White House:
Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. 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.
On everything but the size of government, Tea Party supporters are increasingly out of step with most Americans, even many Republicans. Indeed, at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, today’s Tea Party parallels the anti-Vietnam War movement which rallied behind George S. McGovern in 1972. The McGovernite activists brought energy, but also stridency, to the Democratic Party — repelling moderate voters and damaging the Democratic brand for a generation. By embracing the Tea Party, Republicans risk repeating history.
Many in the Tea Party have ties to Christian Dominionism and are looking at both Bachmann and Perry as a means to their ends of converting our secular government into a theocratic one. If you thought George W. Bush’s reign was bad, try to imagine what a Bachmann or Perry administration would be like. Hopefully the disapproval of the general public for the Tea Party and it’s policies continues to remain high.