My friend Mark Tooley treats the evangelical left’s response to the Tea Party as a sign their influence is fading:

The current economy and political climate, of which the Tea Party is a symptom, may have neutralized whatever gains Wallis’s brand of statism had achieved among younger evangelicals. Evangelical Left elites want to emphasize Global Warming regulation and government health care, while most evangelicals almost certainly share Tea Party distress about too much government. Wallis’s alarms over the Tea Party, and evangelical support for it, may reveal his own political intuition that the Evangelical Left’s moment has receded.

I try to remain skeptical of the prevailing narrative about the leftward shift of younger evangelicals, if only because I am still quite happily conservative and I like to think I have a few friends.

But also because while there has been a leftward tilt among young evangelicals, a sizable minority who didn’t vote for Obama or Huckabee were drawn to the Ron Paul campaign in 2008, who made libertarianism cool before the Tea Parties arrived.

If anything, I suspect that Tea Parties have hurt the libertarian image with younger evangelicals because of its populist bent, and because they’re just not ironic enough. Most college-educated younger evangelicals would have been more inclined to watch the Stewart/Colbert rally than the Beck rally.  (And for that matter, so would I.  Too bad it was terrible.)

Here’s my hypothesis as to why young evangelicals tend to be drawn toward Randian libertarianism or Obama-style pragmatic liberalism:  we think of ourselves as elites, even though most of us aren’t.  This is particularly true of white, college-educated younger evangelicals who went off to Wheaton and Biola, and who are the only young evangelicals the media ever seems to talk about.

Our dissatisfaction with the mainstream evangelical populism we grew up in makes us particularly susceptible to either top-down statism or ubermensch libertarianism. Obama or Ron Paul, Jim Wallis or Ayn Rand. Both appeal to our elite aspirations, as in the former we can politically engineer society to bring about the Kingdom and in the latter we get to be captains of industry.

A conservatism that takes its cues from the reality of original sin would reject both these options, but since ‘sin’ is itself suspicious nomenclature that we prefer to reserve for others, there is little room for this sort of conservatism in the younger evangelical world.

All this by way of exploratory hypothesis.  Either way,  I think Mark’s suggestion that the Tea Party ascendancy has moved the dial among young evangelicals is a bit premature.  I haven’t been able to find exit polling about how young evangelicals voted this time around,  but given that we tend to vote closer to young non-evangelicals than our parents (a fact that is worth reflecting more about), I suspect the gains among Republicans were minimal.

Update: If you’re coming from JT’s blog, thanks for dropping by.  I am always open to critique and happy to clarify what I am saying, and what I’m not.  There’s lots more on this topic in the archives, and I’d encourage you to subscribe by RSS.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.