WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement that has shaken up politics share the same views as the Christian right on social issues like abortion and the role of religion in public life, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
While the loosely organized Tea Party movement has focused largely on shrinking the size of government and other fiscal issues, its backers are more likely to support government restrictions on gay marriage and other social issues, the Public Religion Research Institute found in its American Values Survey.
The survey found significant overlap between the Tea Party, made up mostly of Republicans, and the religious right, which has played a significant political role for decades.
“Members of the Tea Party are certainly potential supporters of a Christian conservative agenda,” said Robert Jones, an author of the study.
But Tea Party supporters report a stronger opposition to government than Republicans or Christian conservatives as a whole, Jones said.
Nearly half of those who identify with the Tea Party believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and a similar proportion thinks that public officials do not pay enough attention to religion, the survey found. They are more likely than the population as a whole to view America as a Christian nation.
Tea Party members are less likely than the general public to support same-sex marriage, abortion rights or a compromise on immigration reform that would allow people who are in the United States illegally to become citizens.
Michael Lindsay, a leading expert on the religious right, said the Tea Party has broadened in recent months to address religious concerns, which could help unify Republicans before the November 2 congressional elections.
“The focus of the movement has changed to one that is much more in line with the full spectrum of conservative political issues,” said Lindsay, a political sociologist at Rice University in Houston.
The movement has taken aim at officeholders from both parties and several incumbent Republicans have been unseated by Tea Party-backed candidates in primary elections.
But 82 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party plan to vote for Republicans in the November elections, the survey found. Nearly three-quarters said they usually vote Republican.
Americans as a whole are divided on the merits of the Tea Party. While 24 percent say they would be more likely to support a candidate who was affiliated with Tea Party groups, 31 percent said they would be less likely to do so.
Tea Party-backed candidates have advocated positions including cutting government spending, lowering taxes, curbing government regulation of private business, phasing out the Social Security retirement program, dismantling the Education Department and repealing President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law.
The Tea Party gets its name from the 1773 Boston Tea Party anti-tax protest in which a band of Bostonians tossed crates of tea into the city’s harbor to denounce a British tea tax.
The Public Religion Research Institute surveyed 3,013 U.S. adults by telephone between September 1 and September 14. It has a margin of error of 2 percentage points for the survey as a whole, and 5.5 percentage points for questions dealing with the Tea Party.
Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard and David Morgan; Editing by Philip Barbara and Bill Trott