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.
Per Missouri…I haven’t seen tv ads for either candidate in a few days. While the ads were running, they were evenly matched. I have begun to see more Kerry/Edwards signs & bumper stickers. For a time, I thought it was just Bush/Cheney, but the Kerry signs are begining to crop up here & there. I live between rural & suburbs.
Good point Gabby Hayes. I love hanging out in bookstores. After the DNC, the Newsweek Poll comes out – my son and I are high-fiving eachother (JK 8 points ahead one), I go to the bookstore- there’s the latest Newsweek with a big, beautiful cover photo of K&E – New Direction for Cmountry. I just got back from the bookstore tonight – there’s the latest Newsweek with a big, (ugly) cover photo of Bush – trumpeting his march to the WH.
What we are seeing is a concerted effort on the part of several media organs to push Bush.
The post convention contortions to promote only the portions of those polls which show Bush getting a good lead in “likely voters” is a clear attempt to ignore all the polls that show otherwise. Further, the refusal to see the obviously poor methodology cannot be an oversight.
You’d think The Washington Post, NBC News, MSNBC, and Newsweek were all owned by the same people.
Oh, wait. They are. General Electric, top ten defense contractor, multibillion dollars per year.
Bizarroworld – the disparity between polls – between national vote vs battlefields – Zogby, who is usually simpatico described a fairly gloomy outlook on his site along with his latest poll data, reports – some anecdotal – of hordes of new voters registering, probably Dems, but obviously no indication of hopefully positive impact on the election. (sorry for the ungrammatical stream of consciousness)
I’m about to look more closely at that. It’s a 6% Bush lead in the RV’s. The median of CBS, ABC, Gallup, Fox, and ICR is +4 for Bush, which is what Marshall reported was the Republican and Democrat’s separate estimates post-convention. The 4% is imprecise, but my guess is not a bad estimate. Definitely within reach.
uGH- Just got a Washington Post update in my Email – blaring headline about Bush solidifying lead – yeah it’s a Post/ABC News poll, but still…
What is so bizarre is the huge gap between Bush’s negatives and the positive Bush poll results. So the electorate believes he is leading the country down the wrong track, but hell, they’ll vote for him anyway? Thanks to Tony for a summation of the latest polls. So which do I trust – would love to go with the ones that suit me!
Per Joshua Marshall’s site, the ABC/Washington Post lead will be in the ballpark of the CBS poll, or worse. Dang it.
thanks for the correction
i am felling much encouraged.
Here’s confirmation of the Kerry campaign’s perception of the battlegrounds:
“Kerry strategist Tad Devine said the campaign had several million dollars in advertising time reserved for Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas, which he called a sign of commitment to those battlegrounds. But the ads aren’t scheduled to air until October, if then. No money has been given to TV stations for the October buys.”
In addition to the Bush 2000 states of Ohio, Florida, NH, WV, and Nevada, Kerry is spending on the Gore 2000 states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Maine, Washington, and Oregon. So…he’s defending 9 and attacking 5. And Ohio and Florida seem to be the key possible pickups.
Devine argues that Kerry is in a better state in Ohio and Florida than Gore was in September 2000. Do we have any info to compare on those two?
If he *does* pick up, say, Ohio and New Hampshire, then Kerry could lose 14 EV’s of Gore states. For instance, Iowa and New Mexico, or any Maine and either Minnesota or Wisconsin. He has to hold Pennsylvania and Michigan….
Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve seen of polls since the twin 11% polls:
Gallup…7% lead for Bush among LV’s, but only 1% among RV’s, Sept. 3-5.
ICR…Kerry up 1% among RV’s, Sept. 1-5
Fox…Bush up 4% among LV’s, with no RV report, Sept. 7-8
CBS…Bush up 7% among RV’s, Sept. 6-8.
Plus a report from Josh Marshall that the two campaigns show Bush up by 4%.
Rasmussen’s tracking shows Bush up by 0.7%.
Zogby showing Kerry with an ECV lead in his last battleground poll.
If you just go with Gallup RV, ICR RV, Fox LV (since they have no RV), and CBS RV, you get an average Bush lead of a smidge under 3%.
And that’s after the Republican convention, the Elephants slinging mud furiously for a long while when the Democrats haven’t responded well. This is going to be close. Kerry should be able to rally in the Gore states. Will he be able to turn Ohio or Florida, or the combination of New Hampshire, Nevada, and West Virginia?
CBS Poll is out – Bush solidly ahead – how to ratioanalize this – need to think something – getting migraine
As a Missourian, I can say that after the Repub convention, I saw a lot of Bush signs go up in yards. However, I’m seeing a lot of Kerry signs as well.
Missouri is deeply divided among its rural and urban regions. I live on the cusp of the rural areas and the suburbs so I get a taste of both. When I got into the suburbs I see a lot of Kerry support (more than I saw for Gore in 2000), but in the rural areas I’m seeing a lot of Bush support.
I don’t think Bush has an 11-point lead here, especially right after Zogby showed them tied just the other day.
I really believe Missouri will boil down to GOTV. Don’t give up on us yet!
Missouri will go Bush. I hate to say it, but Kerry’s message does not resonate there – most citizens are deeply socially conservative and relate to Bush personally and with his social values. There are economic troubles in MIssoui, but unfortunately this election is not about the economy, stupid.
I saw a report (not sure where. The Washington Post?) that Kerry was not targeting Missouri with ads right now. Can anyone confirm? If so, I’d take that as a sign that there might be some more truth to the idea that Bush is surging there.
From the article, the five Bush 2000 states Kerry was targeting were Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Nevada. NH and either WV or Nevada flipping would create a tie, going presumably to Bush in the House. If this is so, the strategy would seem to be (a) holding the Gore states; and (b) picking up one of Florida, Ohio, and New Hampshire/WV/Nevada.
If that’s the strategy, I’m wondering if it might not have been helpful to have Graham on as VP.
Oops. The polls started 1-2 days AFTER the conventions.
Still in the afterglow, IMO.
Rremember that ALL of these new state polls were conducted DURING the convention and 1-2 days afterward.
Regarding Missouri, my initial thought was that the combination of the Repub convention and the Anti-Gay measure (passed with about 70% in favor) on the recent ballot there may have fired up the base. But I haven’t looked for any polling data to support that thought.
tim kaastad –you are confused. Ruy has been staunchly against using LVs until much closer to election day. And the links provided give you both LV and RV.
i am a little lost..is this site a pep rally.?
you didn’t report LV’s which according to you months ago was the true measure of the contest.
Missouri is more culturally conservative and rural than the nation as a whole. It’s often referred to as a “bellwether” for the nation, but I think it’s a step or two to the right of the country overall. That said, I’m not sure things have gone THAT far south there; other current surveys have it closer, though with Bush a few points ahead (Zogby has a tie.)
And the Ohio results are, along with Gallup’s national horse race results, a pretty egregious example of the fallacy of the “likely voter screen.”
I’m guessing the Missouri poll is an outlier. The other recent polls aren’t that strong. But there is a high level of southerner influence in the state and the Republican base was envigorated by the convention, so I’m sure that Bush’s support there is stronger than it was. But 11 points? I’m not buying that.
Anyone have any ideas on why things seem to be going south in Missouri?
When we look at events that will affect the tone of the campaign, I think it is hard to overestimate “Rock for Change.” Having Bruce Springsteen out there proselytizing for Kerry will be an Event. It will persuade and mobilize.
From this point forward, the mojo is definitely with us.