Religion trumps all in election: By PJ Slinger

The religiously unaffiliated voted in record numbers in the 2012 election, but did not reach the epic heights predicted.

The religiously unaffiliated, known as “Nones,” made up 15 percent of the voting population on Nov. 8, which translates to about 19.5 million votes. In 2012, the Nones made up 12 percent of voters for about 15.5 million votes cast. However, predictions for the 2016 election had the Nones casting up to 26 million votes.

So while the Nones are definitely increasing in number, the group as a whole is still not voting like it.

“The numbers are in for the religiously unaffiliated, who now account for a quarter of U.S. adults, but still do not tend to vote as a bloc,” writes Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service.

FFRF members engaged

That a higher majority of Nones are Millennials — an age that historically, doesn’t turn out to vote — may account for the seeming indifference of the secular voter.

“At FFRF, we are proud that 96 percent of our members are registered voters and politically engaged,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, basing those numbers on a definitive membership survey in 2015. The average age of FFRF members is 67.

Those Nones who did go to the polls voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. She got 68 percent of the religiously unaffiliated vote, compared to just 28 percent for Donald Trump. Among white born-again Christian evangelicals, Trump garnered 81 percent of the vote.

“Despite Trump’s not being a particularly religious person, his platform was seen as anti-secular in many atheist and humanist circles,” writes Kimberly Winston of the Religion News Service. “He said he would appoint religiously conservative Supreme Court justices, ban Muslim immigrants, favor Christianity and repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits certain tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates — issues antithetical to organized atheism and humanism.”

Evangelicals for Trump

Evangelical voters went overwhelmingly for Trump.

“While earlier in the campaign some pundits and others questioned whether the thrice-married Trump would earn the bulk of white evangelical support, fully 8-in-10 self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump, while just 16 percent voted for Clinton,” wrote Gregory A. Smith and Jessica Martinez of Pew Research Center.

“White evangelicals in this election aren’t values voters,” Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, told Markoe of Religion News Service. “They’re nostalgia voters. Trump’s line — ‘Let’s make America great again’ — and his last-minute saying — ‘Look folks, I’m your last chance’ — was really powerful for white evangelicals who see their numbers in the general population slipping.”

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker agreed, noting the evangelicals clearly ceded their claim as “values voters” in this election.

“In past elections, the Religious Right used to proclaim that ‘character counts.’ The so-called ‘values voters’ supported candidates whom they thought exhibited higher ‘Christian’ moral values,” Barker said. “In this past election, however, ‘character counts’ seems to have morphed into ‘political expedience counts.’ ‘Forget character,’ they are now saying. ‘Let’s get anybody into office who will help us force our punitive agenda on the rest of the country.'”

Deborah Jian Lee, author of Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism, told the Huffington Post that Trump’s win underscores a deep racial divide within evangelicalism.

“I’ve been hearing from evangelicals leaders and lay people who are people of color, women and LGBTQ who fiercely opposed Trump and are now stunned to see just how many of their white fellow believers supported a candidate that proudly demeans their humanity,” she wrote. “Trump preached xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and more, and the white evangelical base said ‘Amen.'”

Religious divide

The Pew Research Center showed how the religious divide shaped the election. According to Pew, weekly churchgoers backed Trump over Clinton, 56 percent to 40 percent. Those who said they attend religious services more sporadically were closely divided. And those who said they don’t attend religious services at all backed Clinton over Trump by a 31-point margin. The Jewish vote looked much as it did in the past, with overwhelming support for the Democrat: Clinton garnered 71 percent compared with Trump’s 24 percent.

Catholics overall voted for Trump over Clinton 52 percent to 45 percent.

Mathew N. Schmalz, an associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said in Fortune magazine that Catholics didn’t vote for Trump because of his morals (or lack thereof).

“As far as Catholic conservatives are concerned, I know many who believe that Trump’s appeals to racism and misogyny are not only antithetical to Catholic commitments, but to the values of the Republican Party,” Schmalz writes.

Atheist author Sam Harris said that evangelicals may have unwittingly elected the country’s first atheist president.

“The irony: 81 percent of evangelicals just elected our first atheist president,” Harris wrote on his Twitter page the day after the election.

But Hemant Mehta, who writes the Friendly Atheist blog, disagreed with Harris’ claim that Trump is an atheist.

“I take issue with the claim that Trump is an atheist,” Mehta wrote. “Not because I’m one myself and I’d hate for Trump to be lumped in with ‘my tribe,’ but because I think atheism requires more thought than Trump gives it. Trump isn’t someone who thinks ‘God doesn’t exist.’ He doesn’t think about God, period. You think he spends time pondering deep philosophical questions? Of course not. Don’t confuse apathy with atheism.”

Challenge for Nones

The Nones and other secularists now have their work cut out for them in the coming years.

Paul Fidalgo, director of communications for the Center for Inquiry, told Religion News Service’s Winston that a Trump presidency will be a step back for secular values.

“It is time for the secular community to gear up big-time because we should expect, once again, the basic tenets of secularism are going to be challenged very, very hard,” Fidalgo said. “That is the reality.”

Winston spoke with Sarah Levin, senior legislative representative for the Secular Coalition for America, a lobby that represents 19 atheist, humanist and freethought groups in Washington, D.C., including FFRF.

“Our eyes are now on the midterm elections,” Levin told Winston. “We are going to double-down. We really have to.”

Levin said the Nones need to band together better as a voting force as their numbers continue to increase.

“It is important to recognize the Religious Right’s agenda doesn’t represent the majority of Americans or even the majority of the faith community,” Levin told Winston. “They won the battle, but they didn’t win the war. The shifting demographics are still in our favor. That’s going to be a challenge for them and it is going to be incumbent for us to increase our turnout.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation