The US religious right: losing clout, but still holding the world to ransom on sustainability…

The received wisdom about the Tea Party is that it’s pretty different in character to the old Moral Majority style religious right that was such a huge factor in US politics in the 1980s. But not all that different, it turns out.

Polling undertaken in 2010 by the US-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 47% of Americans who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement also said that they are part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement; and two years later, a poll by the same organisation undertaken just before the 2012 election found that 79% of voters in Romney’s coalition were white Christians – among whom white evangelicals were by far the largest component.

As a result, Protestant fundamentalists views and concerns continue to shape Republican positions on climate change and environment policy. Despite moves among some US evangelicals towards much more progressive positions on the environment, this remains the exception rather than the norm. Another 2012 PRRI poll included data suggesting that – wait for it – nearly 65% of white evangelical Protestants believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of Biblical end times (rather than human-caused climate change); and 55% of Republicans say the government should not do more to address climate change.

Admittedly, the political clout of the religious right appears to be on the ebb, and Romney’s poor result in the 2012 election led PRRI to proclaim “the end of a white Christian strategy among voters”. It’s also important to note that a significant and growing majority of the US public that believes that climate change is happening (69% in 2011) and believes that the US government should do more to address the problem (67%).

But while conservative Christians may gradually be losing their capacity to set political agendas, their continuing dominance in the Republican Party means that they have a continuing capacity to block political agendas – particularly given on-going Republican dominance in the House of Representatives. The religious right still matters (like hell, as one might say) for environmental politics in the US and globally.