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.
For Democrats there is no path for a Senate victory in 2022 either if things continue as they have.
Biden must go full economic populist from day one:
1. Wages. Bring up a vote on raising the minimum wage, but also establish a new framework for minimum wages in the United States. We need a clear differentiation between regions and inside regions between urban, suburban and rural areas. Bring up the minimum wage for professionals, administrators and executives too.
2. Place based development. Good jobs are concentrating in only a few neighborhoods in a few cities. The federal government must require corporations, starting with federal contractors, to spread jobs so that the working class, both white and non-white, has access to good quality jobs.
3. Follow up on executive action on prescription drugs.
4. Marihuana decriminalization, both legislative and executive-regulatory.
5. Instruct the Department of Justice to continue and expand anti-trust actions in the information technology sector.
6. Instruct the Department of Justice to begin anti-trust actions in the agriculture sector. Expand subsidies to agriculture as a consequence of trade wars, but require more production for domestic consumption.
Biden must also move to the right or center right on several issues:
1. Funding the Police. Get the Party behind a unified legislative and fiscal position that is easy to explain. Make sure this position can be implemented quickly everywhere from the biggest and most diverse cities to the smallest villages that Democrats control. Convince the most radical Democrats that this is the best position to have. Democrats can’t continue with the current messaging cacophony.
2. China. Keep Trump’s framework. Actually, pledge to deepen the decoupling.
3. Support national voter id and other changes to address even the slightest possibility of voter fraud.
4. Authoritarianism in Latin America. As foreign policy is within the President’s primary jurisdiction, develop a policy on how to deal with Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, as well as Brazil, that puts the primary focus on human rights and democracy. Go beyond platitudes and appoint someone with an exclusive focus on this. Reject incrementalism in sanctions (either putting them in place or lifting them) though, it doesn’t work.
5. Immigration. Allow moderate immigrant groups to shape the Party’s position. This will inevitably lead to focus on comprehensive reform and a rejection of open borders. The Party should repudiate the concept of sanctuaries. The Party wouldn’t tolerate sanctuaries for racism, so why support sanctuaries where the law is not applied evenly. Defunding sanctuary cities should be contingent on passing comprehensive reform.
6. Israel, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and the Middle East and East Mediterranean. Keep Trump’s policy objectives. Biden’s original idea of partioning Irak shows he understands that final solutions are important. On Iran the point is basically about making it a better regional actor. No simple return to the previous nuclear framework. On the Middle East Peace Process the pressure needs to be kept up on Palestinians and repudiation of boycott movements against Israel. Palestinians should be both pressured and allowed to hold elections so that they can appoint a legitimate peace negotiator with Israel, which is what has been missing for more than a decade. Lebanon may also be about to flip. Saudi Arabia’s modernization needs to be supported, so no place for sanctions there. The Yemeni peace process is important but secondary to other objectives. The Syrian, Libyan and Iraq stabilization are more important and require real geopolitical vision. The US needs to intervene more on the Cyprus and Greek Aegean conflicts, so that Turkey can be at least partially appeased. The Armenians and Kurds problems need to receive more US attention with the US pressuring both to compromise in relation to their territorial ambitions.
7. Military spending, more and better.
8. Global warming. Push other countries to make more efforts. Continue supporting natural gas at home and its use abroad. Get other countries to stop using coal. Focus at home and abroad on electric cars. Develop a framework for a carbon tax at the border on imported goods just like the European Union is considering.
9. Crack down on higher education cost inflation.
The reason so many Democrats are mad as hell is because not only did the party underperform, but the polls we rely on for deciding things in primaries would also probably be wrong.
Late deciders once again broke for Trump though.
In the most fundamental way this election was an “its the economy, stupid” vote.
Losing with the white moderates in Maine. Losing with the white populists in Montana. Where are the Senate pickups we were promised?
Arizona already went through decades of Trumpism, just like California before it. Doesn’t mean the model is replicable in states with less Hispanic immigration or with immigration from Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, etc.
Trump has done well even with Libertarians running pretty good in many states. Meanwhile the Green vote collapsed.
Democrats ran on covid and demeanor. Republicans ran against political correctness and on the economy.
The people who came out for Trump voted because they liked him.
The Democrats who came out again for Biden (many after not voting in 2016) voted for a diversity of reasons. The few Republicans who voted for Biden did it to stop Trump.
The Republican party is the minority party yet is more structurally strong now than in 2016. They have a clear path forward with America First and opposing all the myriad manifestations of toxic wokeness. Their path is clear as in Europe.
Gays will continue voting for Trump. Trump was bad on transgender rights but neutral on gay rights. Transgender rights are stuck because they are choosing the wrong framework to push for an incoherent agenda. More equal protection under the law and less culture wars on pronouns. The bathroom thing is unenforceable and easy to mock but transgender leadership is choosing moralizing.
The left is not anywhere near ascendant in the US.
30% of Puerto Rican in Florida voted for Trump, for example.
Florida voted to raise the minimum wage and to enfranchise ex convicts. It also reelected its Republican Governor, elected a Republican Senator and twice voted for Trump. Floridians who are moderate must have buyers’ remorse with their experience with Gillum. But the state is not reactionary or conservative.
If I was in Florida looking at how California closed Disneyland and Universal Studios taking away the livelihoods of all those Hispanic service workers and still having an epidemic and then considered that Democrats would also close Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando if voters let them I would have to balance competing ethical interests. When it comes to covid old people are voting out of self interest. It doesn’t mean their ethics are superior, as we see in all the other ways they vote.
2018 was overshadowed in 2020 by moralizing about masks and ambiguity over cultural issues.
Is it progress that in order to have the Squad speaking about things that will never become legislation we have to lose seats that are key to getting anything at all done? Loses in congressional and state legislative seats, including in New York, will soon tell us.
If Biden wins and loses the Senate it will be a good reminder that the Electoral College is not the only constitutional problem. Democrats had no ideas beyond filibuster reform (which would be moot) and ludicrous ideas about DC and PR as states.
Encouraging mail vote turned out to be an incredibly flawed strategy when it comes to perception. Even early voting in places like New York that don’t do an early count was a bit stupid.
Neither the Democratic party nor the left have paths forward.
1. The white suburban route requires moving a lot more to the cultural center and that wouldn’t pay dividends for a while.
2. A white working class route would be even more uphill as it would pit the suburban fiscal moderates against the working class populists.
3. The Bernie strategy of turning out disenchanted progressives has been twice disproven.
4. The identity politics BLM agenda doesn’t even have the support of many Black elected officials and is stuck even in the Bluest of cities, yet is incredibly divisive at the national level and in most key battlegrounds.
Black Democratic partisans made Biden the nominee. Dettached Black voters are another thing.
I suspect that the strategies of neither Biden nor Bernie would have worked.
The presumption that covid would only work against Trump I think was misguided. Covid also worked in his favor as people want to get back to work. The media fear mongering over covid may have backfired.
The Black, Hispanic and White working class male vote (including the gay vote) may have tipped further enough towards Trump to make the Republican party even more hegemonic in most of the states of USA.
Democrats’ historic mishandling of deindustrialization and China, silence over authoritarianism in Latin America and the ambiguity over defunding police all contribute to pushing at the margins just enough against Democrats.