Since I’m always standing at the intersection of politics and religion, I’m always interested in fresh data on the subject, and wrote some up at New York:
One of the big predictions in American politics lately, of infinite comfort to embattled progressives, is that the increasing number of religiously non-affiliated Americans, particularly among younger generations, will spur a steady leftward drift. Perhaps that will mean, we are told, that Democrats will be able to build their elusive permanent majority on the grounds of abandoned houses of worship. Or perhaps, some hope, the religious roots of today’s Republican extremism will begin to wither away, allowing American conservatives to resemble their less intemperate distant cousins in other advanced democracies, ending the culture wars.
Both propositions may be true. But it’s a mistake to treat so-called nones as an undifferentiated secularist mass, as Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge explains with some fresh data. He notes that “in 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular.” This large bloc of “nothing in particular” voters may lean left, all other things being equal, but they tend to be as uninterested in politics as in religion, making them a less than ideal party constituency. He explains:
“To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.
“While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely.
“They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.
“This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories.”
As Burge mentioned, however, there is a “none” constituency that leans much more strongly left and is very engaged politically — indeed, significantly more engaged than the white evangelicals we’re always hearing about. That would be atheists. In a separate piece, he gets into the numbers:
“The group that is most likely to contact a public official? Atheists.
“The group that puts up political signs at the highest rates? Atheists.
“HALF of atheists report giving to a candidate or campaign in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“The average atheist is about 65% more politically engaged than the average American.”
And as Thomas Edsall points out in a broader New York Times column on demographic voting patterns, atheists really are a solid Democratic constituency, supporting Biden over Trump in 2020 by an incredible 87 to 9 percent margin. It’s worth noting that the less adamant siblings of the emphatically godless, agnostics, also went for Biden by an 80 to 17 percent margin and are more engaged than “nothing in particulars” as well.
So should Democrats target and identify with atheists? It’s risky. Despite the trends, there are still three times as many white evangelicals as atheists in the voting population. And there are a lot more religious folk of different varieties, some of whom have robust Democratic voting minorities or even majorities who probably wouldn’t be too happy with their party showing disdain for religion entirely. There’s also a hunt-where-the-ducks-fly factor: If atheists and agnostics already participate in politics and lean strongly toward Democrats, how much attention do they really need? There’s a reason that politicians, whatever their actual religious beliefs or practices, overwhelmingly report some religious identity. Congress lost its one professed atheist when California representative Pete Stark lost a Democratic primary in 2012; the only professed agnostic in Congress is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose political future isn’t looking great.
It’s a complicated picture. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues that American liberalism’s increasing identification with secularism is keeping a lot of conservative Christians from politically expressing their reservations about Donald Trump. And religious people beyond the ranks of conservative faith communities may feel cross-pressured if Democratic politicians begin to reflect the liberal intelligentsia’s general assumption that religion is little more than a reactionary habit rooted in superstition and doomed to eventual extinction.
Perhaps it makes more sense for Democratic atheists and agnostics to spend time educating and mobilizing the “nothing in particular” Americans who already outnumber white evangelicals and ought to be concerned about how they’ll be treated if a Christian-nationalist Gilead arises. Only then can “nones” become the salvation for the Democratic Party.
Yes, Allan, character matters. That’s why it’s so galling to have this moral midget in the White House. This silly frat boy has not earned ONE thing on his own in his life. Oh, maybe his cheerleading slot, but I doubt that. He has had every string pulled for him to get him out of military service, to allow him to make money by running businesses into the ground, to gain the presidency by having his brother rig Florida and his Daddy’s buddies on the Supreme Court write him in on the most poorly reasoned SCOTUS decision since Dred Scott. He lies. He cheats. He steals from the poor to give to the rich. He wraps himself in the flag and Jesus in order to further the interests of his corporate cronies. PATHETIC! People like you are duped. Even more PATHETIC!
Worst. President. Ever.
Allan, Nick is right. Even if Bush wins reelection he’s a self-limiting disease. Democrats will take over the White House and Congress again, and we’ll once again have budget surpluses and start to pay down the national debt instead of doubling it like the village idiot we have in office now. And once again we’ll have someone in office who isn’t so obsessed with a country that was no threat to anyone outside of the Middle East (and as long as Iran was there to soak up Hussein’s attention he wasn’t much of a threat there either) that he’ll abandon our true enemy right before catching him to go off on a wild goose chase.
Maybe we’ll have a president who listens to people who actually know what they’re talking about instead of just people who tell him what he wants to hear. We sure as hell don’t have that now.
Allan: The difference has always seemed to me that conservatives equate ‘character’ with sex; liberals equate it with ‘public character,’ for lack of a better term. Yeah Clinton lied about sex … but that was between him and Hillary, in my view. Bush lied about war, the most solemn and seriious responsibility a President has. Big difference. And as far as the polls go, survey 5-10 percent more Republicans, you get a Republican lead. Survey numbers more indicative of actual turnout — 4-8 percent more Dems in the last three Presidential elections — and you’ll get the Democrat in the lead.
Your making my argument for me Nick. What your saying is what all democrats were saying back then, character doasn’t matter. There are more things in life then money Nick. Clinton did next to nothing about terrorism even though all the signs we blaring back in his terms. Good debate though.
Hey Allan — But during Clinton’s time, you could comfort yourself with the knowledge of huge budget surpluses, a growing economy, no disastrous war and the fact Administration knew Al-Qaeda was the major threat…
Jim, at least we live in a country where we can have these kind of debates. Now you know how most Republicans felt for eight years when Bubba was in office. It doesn’t feel good does it? Oh and by the way, there’s a new NY Times/CBS poll out that shows Bush up nine.
Oh, the previous data was courtesy of mydd.com, who obtained it from theleftcoaster.com who got it from Gallup.
Get people to the polls, and President Kerry will happen.
Guess what that nasty Gallup poll shows:
“Kerry leads Bush by ten points among independents who are registered to vote, 51-41.”
I’ll take more bad news like that.
And I like my jazz rough.
Nearly 50% of PA voters say that Bush’s moral values are closely aligned with theirs. I think I’m gonna move to another state.
It’s so frustrating to read that people think W is tougher on terror than Kerry. As I recall…now, maybe I’m wrong…but I believe 9/11 occurred during the Bush administration.
Leadership? Well, if you consider lying to people to persuade them to be leadership, then I guess Bush is your man. Bush had led 1,000 Americans to their deaths.
Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I inhabit the same country (and state) with so many nitwits. How anyone…ANYONE…can vote for W is completely beyond me. Grrrrr!