Considering about a third of Democratic voters have no religious affiliation, it’s still strange that so many of the presidential candidates continue promoting their faith as if it’s a selling point without making it abundantly clear (and not just lip service) that Secular Americans are just as virtuous and worthy of representation in politics.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has always expressed a nebulous, Secular Jewish, God-is-everything sort of theology, may be the best advocate for keeping religion out of government, though even he doesn’t talk about it on the stump.
Maybe that’s the way to go. A new poll from Morning Consult suggests that Sanders’ approach is useful for winning over non-theistic voters, revealing that atheists (not Nones, but atheists specifically) prefer Sanders over any other individual candidate in the Democratic field. Atheists are the only “religious” group, in fact, where that’s the case.
The most obvious explanation for the split among religious and nonreligious voters is that religiously unaffiliated Democrats — in particular, atheists and agnostics, who together accounted for 17 percent of primary voters in the 2016 CCES study — are substantially more liberal than Democrats who are still part of organized religion. And very liberal voters are a key constituency for Sanders. “Many religiously unaffiliated voters overlap with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, so it’s not surprising you’d see higher support for Sanders,” said Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University. Religiously unaffiliated Democrats also tend to be younger overall — another group in which Sanders tends to be strong relative to Biden.
Keep in mind that atheists aren’t necessarily looking for a politician to promote atheism in the same way white evangelicals need to be coddled and told how wonderful they are. By and large, we want a candidate who supports church/state separation (and all of the Democrats, even overtly religious ones like Sen. Cory Booker, have supported that). We want someone who will push evidence-based policies, and who takes science seriously, and who respects the rights of marginalized groups of people. Sanders may have the support of a plurality of atheists, but a large percentage of atheists will undoubtedly vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is.
That said, all the Democrats would be doing themselves a huge favor by including us in their speeches. It’s not enough to just append “and non-religious too” in a long list of the country’s religious tapestry. They need to expound on the fact that the religious don’t have a monopoly on good ideas or moral thinking. They should make it clear that religious people deserve respect, but religious beliefs without secular justifications aren’t going to inform the policies of a future administration. You can say all that without alienating Democratic voters at large — and it’s far more important to excite and inspire new liberal voters than trying to win over a handful of moderate Republicans.
As one political science professor told the site, “It would take a very artful politician to be able to mobilize secular voters while also holding onto religious voters.” That may be true, but it’s not out of the question since we’re not asking politicians to advocate our beliefs on the stump like conservative Christians. We just want them to stop ignoring our existence. It’s not that complicated.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)