10/06/2010 12:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

New Poll Shows Tea Party Closely Linked to Democrats

Perhaps the headline got your attention. That was the point, and I should say now that it's a completely bogus claim. But it is a claim based on the exact same logic as the claim being made in tons of right-wing blogs and even some mainstream news organizations that a recent poll shows that the Tea Party and Christian Right are (to use ACB's headline) "Closely Linked."

In truth, the poll shows that less than half of the Tea Party identifies as conservative Christian. The poll shows that less than a quarter of conservative Christians identify as being in the Tea Party. Yet somehow, the conclusion being drawn by this poll is that the "Tea Party Is Much Like the Religious Right." Of course, around 1 in 5 Tea Party members voted for Obama, so by that same logic, I guess this poll also shows that the "Tea Party Is Much Like Democrats."

Come on! ABC, NPR, MSNBC, and Reuters -- all are buying this claim. I feel like the kid watching a naked emperor walk by as everyone congratulates him on his beautiful clothes. So let's review the facts one more time: most people who identify as being part of the Tea Party are not conservative Christians, and three times as many conservatives Christians are not in the Tea Party as are.

Now, I can totally understand why the GOP and conservatives would want to spread this false narrative that the Tea Party and the Christian Right are synonymous. They have a relatively small Tea Party movement with tons of energy that is distrusted by their traditional and larger group of Christian Right foot soldiers who are still somewhat disaffected by the Bush years. What better way to turn out the troops than to try to convince the 75 percent of the Christian Right who don't identify with the Tea Party that the Tea Party is really just like them and that they should join up.

That's why Tony Perkins changed his tune from complaining in March that the Tea Party deliberately excludes conservative Christian priorities and that "the groups coordinating [the Tea Party] eschew social issues" to now claiming that "99%" of those who attend his rallies also attend Tea Party events" and that "[w]e see [the Tea Party] as an ally ... we're working with them." I understand why Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network would read this poll and claim "so much for trying to say that Christians and the Tea Party don't have common cause. That theory just went KABOOM!!"

But why in the world are progressives picking up this false narrative? When we see Glenn Beck, Tony Perkins, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich all making the same argument to the media and American people, it should be a clue that this is not an argument we want to be making.

Is there some overlap? Sure. The Tea Party is conservative and (my headline aside) mostly GOP. But there is more difference than similarity between the Tea Party and the Christian Right. Progressives should be highlighting those differences and hypocrisy, not helping Republicans cover them up. Conservative leaders condemn Democratic candidates for not opposing abortion in all cases but welcome the majority of Tea Party members who share that same view. And it's anathema when Democrats argue that government shouldn't define marriage as only between a man and a woman, but it's fine that most Tea Party members hold that same view.

There are lots of ways to spin data. Using data from this poll, we can follow the lead of the Right by focusing on the fact that most Tea Party members oppose gay marriage, which makes the Tea Party sound more appealing to social conservatives...or we could highlight the fact that most Tea Party members support legal recognition of same-sex couples (civil unions or marriage), which would turn off social conservatives.

Why would any Democrat think that it is better to join Palin and Beck in building a narrative that twists the data to help convince the Tea Party and Christian Right that they are one and the same than to push an argument much closer to the truth that forces those two parts of the Republican base to face and wrestle with their huge differences?