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.
Democrats are driving a polarization over immigration that will probably backfire.
Liberals are confusing support for a humanitarian DACA with support for open borders.
Democrats are officially not in favor of open frontiers but the discourse on the left has finally arrived at a place where it amounts to tacit support for it.
If you oppose the Wall, ICE enforcement, the use of administrative law, detention and deportation, then in essence you support open borders.
If you think there should be very few restrictions on family reunification (chain migration), that risk of absconding should be ignored and that everyone who is eligible for asylum should receive it (no quotas) and be resettled, then in essence you support open borders.
DACA negotiations have collapsed because Democrats and the far right are colluding to undermine them. The far right with bad faith proposals and Democrats with a no compromise stance given that the courts have suspended Trump’s DACA repeal action.
One can understand Democrats’ defense of the diversity lottery and some family reunification rules, as well as an unrestricted path to citizenship for Dreamers and many other previous immigrants, but Democrats have adopted a take it or leave it attitude, even though they are the party in congressional minority.
Once DACA arrives to the Supreme Court immigrants may be left with very few protections. Democrats are gambling with time and with immigrants’ interests.
The fact that the Obama administration (with the exception of DACA) had legislative, fiscal and administrative policies regarding immigrants that were similar or even identical to Trump will always explode in the face of Democrats when trying to pin Republicans with accusations of abuse and lack of sensitivity.
The left has arrived at a place where opposition to police brutality is confused with opposition to all police enforcement and opposition of ICE brutality is confused with opposition to all immigration enforcement.
At the same time, the left wants vigorous federal enforcement of civil and voting rights laws and LGBT rights, ADA, labor law, abortion rights, consumer law, privacy laws, environmental laws, freedom from religion, etc.
Gun rights and freedom of religion don’t get the same defense and are tacitly opposed. So are some aspects of freedom of expression and association.
In other words, the rule of law is to be applied selectively.
Liberals talk about human rights, but countries of origin and transit have a duty to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
And it is a legitimate question to ask if parents risking their children’s lives are doing it for the children or for themselves.
The notion that Mexico is such a bad country that everyone deserves to leave is itself racist in the dual forms of white supremacist thinking and white saviorism.
When the right talks about alternative facts and fake news these are the kind of issues they talk about.
One can understand that Trump’s comments over immigrants are problematic, but he is being smart about making those comments in contexts where the facts can easily be interpreted as favoring his position. His conflation of all immigrants with gang members is meant to provoke liberals into defending gang members. This is what he has done for two years and it seems to keep working. Trump is pushing for cynicism because cynicism only favors the right.
The left is increasingly complicit in pushing cynical views about how government works.
ICE and the Police are conflated with overall brutality. People only have rights but no obligations. International law only applies to the United States.
The right of people to look for democracy and a better life doesn’t include domestic citizens. The opinions of domestic citizens are reduced to racism if they don’t support policies that are tantamount to open borders even though nobody openly talks about open borders.