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, we have to overwhelm them with a landslide and GOTV will be crucial. But I was getting at what Susan picked up. We need to weigh in on the spin game, and hard. First, we have to shout that Kerry did win, and support all efforts of the Kerry campaign to make sure the votes are counted. And we have to have a good narrative about why Bush lost. We have to create our own facts, starting now.
You are absolutely correct.
The Bush Machine is all about saying something and making it so by saying it over and over and over.
Fox News and Gallup are in on it. So is the New York Post, the Washington Times, and Drudge. Likewise Limbaugh.
They take daily talking points and utilize brainwashing techniques aka marketing techniques.
They are losing because their product sucks so hard. People try Kerry Cola, and even though the marketing sucks, it tastes better.
Bush and team already plan to either declare victory or war the night of November 2nd. Unless there is a landslide, this guy is not leaving office without a fight. I can easily see him counting on litigation or legislatures to steal a few key states.
That is the main reason we need to win by 5 million or more votes. We need a landslide to rid the country of this counterfeit King who stole the presidency once, and will surely do so again if given any chance.
“Are there circumstances in which the “50% rule” doesn’t quite hold? Could, say, the majority of undecided voters break for an incumbent in a time of war?”
What time of war?
The public doesn’t perceive this as a US war, but as a Bush war, and there has been no indication the undecideds are in any way moved by Bush’s constant pitch that this is a war time.
If they would buy that dubious proposition, they would have bought it already.
All polls shows undecideds decidedly anti-war.
Ruy, echoing “Gabby Hayes,” I was very happy to see you get props from Krugman, who’s one of my idols.
But I share Alan’s concern about the guerilla campaign that Bush/Cheney are waging. My advice: volunteer NOW to get out the vote and do what you can to help the Dems keep voter fraud at bay.
Alan, We certainly made a difference right after each debate when we flooded the polls with votes stating that Kerry won. Hope we can be effectively mobilized to help bring about victory on Nov. 2.
At the moment, I’m on pins and needles. My DD and Ruy make me feel hopeful, then I read Altercation and Eric reports that things just ain’t that rosy.
Krugman’s article is important because it says it out loud that we are in an evolving coup d’etat. And it reinforces the picture of Bush’s world painted by Ron Suskind in his important NY Times article
Krugman’s point about Gallup illustrates perfectly what the Bush advisor meant when he told Suskind that “we create our own reality.” This remark has nothing to do with faith vs secular, it is ad-speak. I’ve been around advertising types for years, and it is how they speak. They do create perceptions, and for them, that is reality.
Gallup, Fox, and the others are working very hard to create the perception that Bush is winning. They are not obsessed, like those in the reality-based community with analyzing facts as they exist. They are creating perceptions–reality in the world of politics. And as the Bush adviser told Suskind, the rest of us just have to rush to catch up.
While the rest of us are glued to TV on election night, analyzing the election results, the right wing media machine will be forging ahead, creating the perception that Bush has already won. We’ve all got to do what we can to create the alternative perception, that Bush lost and Kerry won. Let’s not be caught flat-footed this time around.
Are there circumstances in which the “50% rule” doesn’t quite hold? Could, say, the majority of undecided voters break for an incumbent in a time of war? I ask this because lots of blogs seem to take the rule as an article of faith
Ruy, you didn’t mention that he gave you a shout out and props by name.
I was reading Krugman earlier today and saw the tip of the hat he gave you on deconstructing Gallup and others.
Congrats. I’ve been sending people here for the past 6 weeks to get people educated on polls.