Will political candidates ever catch up with the changing demographics and start to woo us — the “Nones” — the secular voters?
This has been the question for more than a decade, since the number of nonreligious adults matched the hardcore Religious Right vote. The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 identified the nonreligious, then at 14%, as the fastest-growing segment. The 2008 ARIS survey put us at 15% and growing. Last month, a Pew study found nearly 20% of U.S. adults is nonreligious, catapulting the “Nones” into what I’ve jokingly dubbed “the second largest denomination” — second only to Roman Catholics.
Why politicians have failed to pick up on the changing demographics is the mystery. You’d think they’d be celebrating the fact that they can ease off the pandering a bit. Even now, with exit polling figures on the secular vote staring us straight in the face, there is a startling lack of comment. The fact is that the "I'm Secular and I Vote" crowd swayed the presidential election, helped three states adopt marriage equality, and a fourth reject a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Religion and Ethics News Weekly’s lead story this Sunday on the election referenced the importance of the secular vote . . . then dropped it like a hot potato in a roundtable discussion focusing only on religious voters.
To her credit, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has picked up on the secular statistics. In her page one news article Saturday, "How the religious right failed to sway votes,” she spent as much column space parsing the secular influence as analyzing the failures of the Religious Right:
"The election results are just one indication of larger trends in American religion that Christian conservatives are still digesting, political analysts say. Americans who have no religious affiliation — pollsters call them the “nones” — are now about one-fifth of the population over all, according to a study released last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life," wrote Goodstein.
"The younger generation is even less religious: about one-third of Americans ages 18 to 22 say they are either atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular. Americans who are secular are far more likely to vote for liberal candidates and for same-sex marriage. Seventy percent of those who said they had no religion voted for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research."
Exit polls found that 70% of seculars and 69% of Jews went for Obama. The bishops' campaign against Obamacare's contraceptive mandate dented Catholic support for Obama, which went from 54% in 2008 to 50% in 2012 (48% voted for Romney this year). White Catholic support for Obama dropped from 47% in 2008 to 40% in 2012; it was the Hispanic Catholics who buoyed the Obama vote at 75%, higher even than the secular vote. Fully 57% of the white Protestant vote went to Romney; 79% of white born-again evangelicals voted for Romney while 95% of Black Protestants went for Obama.
Sixty-two percent of those who never attend church voted for Obama. Obama also won the vote for those who attend only monthly or less. Of those who attend church weekly or more, 59% went for Romney. According to Pew, Catholics made up a quarter of voters, Protestants 53%, Jews 2%, Muslims and other non-Christian faiths 7% and religiously unaffiliated 12% of the electorate.
It’s amusing to see the post-mortems by the losers thinking out loud about how to better “include youth and Hispanics” next time around. So far, no noises about trying to propitiate the nonreligious voting bloc by offering fewer “God bless Americas” and dropping bible-based politics.
Political candidates will ignore the secular vote in future at their peril.
Unheralded, unwanted, unwooed, the secular vote nevertheless made its mark this election year.