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.
An E-mail I got last week announced that the Democratic Party had “gone on offense” on national security. I was glad to read that and even sent them a few bucks. However, Democrats still haven’t caught on completely to what “offense” is. Carl Hulse’s article says Democrats have been advised to respond. Responding isn’t the same as going on offense. The Democrats plan to attack some of Bush’s failures and offer an alternative defense strategy. That’s competing, but not fully attacking. Offense is when one goes directly at his opponents position and the opponents position becomes the central issue. Offense is taking place when the opponent is on defense. To truly go on offense,the Democrats must attack Bush’s plan for his “war on terror.”
The Bush plan for his “war on terrorism” is beyond extreme and all the way through insane. Bush plans to install democracies in every country where terrorists might live. To do this, Bush is willing to prosecute a century of consecutive wars. Bush isn’t worried that the lives and money lost in the wars will exceed by numerous multiples anything the terrorists might do to us if we do nothing and leave our doors wide open. Bush isn’t worried about all the terrorism a century of wars might provoke. That’s because Bush is convinced that at the end of the century, the future Muslims of the Middle East will be so grateful for the democracy we’ll give them that they’ll overlook how we bombed their theocracy loving grandparents to get it. Bush believes they’ll be so grateful that they won’t want to attack the US anymore. That’s when Bush believes his “war on terrorism” will be a success. Our president has lost his mind.
Bush keeps saying Iraq is part of the war on terror. Democrats, ever on defense, insist that its not. Bush won’t say what exactly the “war on terror” is. Since Bush won’t define it, why don’t the Democrats define it for him? Yes, Iraq is part of the war on terror, and the 100 year crusade is Bush’s plan for the war on terrorism. Would the public like 100 years worth of Iraq wars? Let Bush defend scheme.
I haven’t heard a single Democrat talk about Bush’s war plan. Bush’s idea is so insane I can’t find a poll on it anywhere. America is pretending Bush’s idea doesn’t exist. And the Republicans get away with never mentioning Bush’s plan and instead are on offense calling we on the net and our favorite party “extremists.”
A quick analogy to Bush’s plan would be to try to keep your house safe by sending cops everywhere in the world to catch every burglar, and eliminating every social condition that might make someone want to become a burglar, and meanwhile, leaving your doors unlocked and all your money in cash on the dining room table. Democrats want go after terrorists and the countries that sponsor terrorist attacks. Democrats just want to lock the doors and put the cash in the bank too. The Democratic approach should be sold as a more rational and more effective approach. Effectiveness means future safety. Its time to go on offense.