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.
After reading both articles a couple of points:
1. DURING elections is no time to discipline politicians. That time is either BEFORE or AFTER elections.
2. During THIS election Democratic voters are looking to get rid of the dominant Republican mis-rulers. They are not keen on calls to exact revenge on Democrats.
In 2009 it’s going to be a different ball-game if Obama wins. At that point progressives are immediately going to start developing a rather LARGE list of policy differences with Obama.
There’s going to be problems with his desire to ramp up the Afghanistan war, that’s not going to go well and U.S. casualty rates are likely to soar. The more Afghanis feel that someone is trying to establish the rule of Kabul over them the more they will fight. They fought the Soviet installed regime, they fought the Taliban, they are fighting Karzai and the northern tribes that replaced the Taliban now. It’s only going to get worse the more we try to exert control.
This has the potential to be like JFK and Vietnam.
Then Iraq is still going to be a severe problem. Just because McCain and the media are trumpeting that “we’ve won! The surge worked!” doesn’t make it true as pointed out on this site.
There’s going to be the problem of “residual troops.” What Obama wants and what progressives want (total evacuation of Iraq and leaving the country to the Iraqis without intereference) are night and day. Obama is talking about keeping hundreds of thousands of Americans (military advisers, economists, security personnel, experts of all stripes, spooks and CIA operatives, etc.) and lots of bases, including our Fortress Embassy and probably the Green Zone as well — all under U.S. control, even if there is some fig-leaf “transfer” of autonomy over to the Iraqis.
The Iraqis don’t want any of this. It’s a replay of Vietnam, with a dash of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians as also mentioned on this site.
There will be plenty of domestic problems as well.
The 70 vote defection on FISA ought to make something clear. The real lack is a progressive lobbying effort in Washington that controls money and clout. Many of these people aren’t “Bush Dogs” at all, they are run of the mill Democrats who just aren’t feeling any pressure from the left so they don’t vote for liberal causes.
Its a nice effort to develop this, but we’d be much better off targeting Democrats in blue districts who don’t vote with us, than Bush Dogs in Rep +5 districts.
It took conservatives 15 years before they got Ronald Reagan elected. In the mean time how many “betrayals” by Rockyfeller Republicans did they have to endure?
Noam Chomsky has called Nixon the “last liberal president” for his creation of EPA and various environmental laws, his espousal of “treatment first” drug policy, etc. He was in a liberal era and couldn’t tilt nearly as far to the right as Bush can now, after Neo-con crusaders have been planting seeds for 20-30 years.
Obama might, if we are successful, be the “last conservative president.”
This is going to take a long time.