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.
Regarding Steve’s question above, on election day undecided voters historically tend to vote 2 to 1 for the challenger (sometimes 3 to 1) so what you tend to see is a late movement for the challenger compared to the final polls.
The net effect of all this is that the incumbent’s actual poll number (Bush) reflects his ceiling, the max he can get, where as the challenger’s real number will be much higher than his current polling.
So where Bush is below 50% he is likely to be overtaken by the late surge for Kerry (according to the rule of thumb)
Please help me to understand. In the individual state
polls. If Bush is leading (by whatever margin), then
what differance does it make if he is below 50 ?
WaPo tracking poll just out shows Bush margin over Kerry by 1%–down from 4% yesterday. (But another Hawaii poll shows Bush up one point). T.J.
The two Nevada polls are encouraging, as are Rasmussen’s statewide polls for Michigan and Iowa. Also, Rasmussen shows Bush and Kerry separated by less than 1/2%. The ABC tracking poll now has Bush up by a mere 1%, while stating that Kerry had his best day of polling yesterday (Saturday) since October 2nd. That conflicts with Zogby who reports that on Saturday Bush reached 50% for the first time, with Kerry at 43%. Confusing, isn’t it? I think that this wide disparity in the polls reflects the fact that Kerry has large undereported support among young voters who 1) have only a cell phone, or 2) are more likely to be unavailable when surveyers call. I firmly believe that the nation will be surprised when this previously unheard from block of voters flock to the polls in record numbers.
I hope I’m not just seeing through blue-tinted glasses, but this and other recent posts seem to support the “undecideds breaking for challenger” assumption:
In both FL and NV, whichever poll finds the lower number of undecideds also has a better Kerry number. And in my home state of TN, a just-released Mason-Dixon poll –
– shows Kerry going from 16 points down to 12 down, *exactly* matching a 4-point decrease in undecideds from a month ago. I don’t hold out much hope for TN, but if this kind of evidence continues to mount, we may be in for some very pleasant surprises wherever Bush is at 49% or less.
And from this perspective the 43-43 “tie” in Hawaii is nothing to lose sleep over–unless of course you can use your insomnia to make GOTV calls to an appropriate time zone.
Nevada’s polls are open. I’m on my way up to work the precincts. Start the surge for Kerry!
Best Bumper Sticker of 2004 campaign was found in Puerto Vallarta, Mx:
“Pull the Cheney…Flush Bush”…only eight more days…hallelujah..goyo
Maine Kerry 50
Zogby Intl..(I know)
This will be the week of the Great Breakout
Polishing the Ann Richards Turkey Fork
Ruy, what do you make of the Hawaii poll that has it dead even at 43%, with 10% undecided. I spend part of the year there and Hawaii’s about as Democratic as it gets so its shocking. Friends in Hawaii say it’s unlikely that Bush could win there, a little campaigning by Inouye for his veteran buddy Kerry is all what’s needed I was told.