How will Secular Americans vote this November?
You would think most atheists are inclined to back Democrat Joe Biden, given the alternative, but when it comes to “Nones” — which includes atheists, agnostics, and people with no organized religious affiliation — the support for Biden isn’t nearly as overwhelming as you might imagine.
Professor Ryan P. Burge crunched available data and found a few surprising things.
The first is that Nones didn’t really have a political “side” until the 1990s. When it came to President Ronald Reagan, about half of Nones voted for him. Now we’re reliably blue… but even that depends on which group we’re looking at.
That’s where the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) comes in because that large survey broke down voters into atheists, agnostics, and the rest of the Nones. There’s information from 2008, 2012, and 2016.
Check out how the three groups voted over the years:
No doubt atheists are a solid block. In 2016, 78% of us voted for Hillary Clinton compared to only 14% who backed Donald Trump. (That’s a slight change from 2012, when a slightly larger proportion backed President Obama‘s re-election.)
Agnostics are — wait for it — more wishy-washy. 68% backed Clinton compared to 23% who backed Trump. Once again, it was a closer race than in 2012.
But then we have the other Nones, who are far closer than anyone might think. 55% voted for Clinton and 38% voted for Trump.
If I had to look into my crystal ball and guess how the nones are actually going to vote in 2020, I think it’s fair to say that at least 80% of atheists will pull the lever for Biden, if not more. That’s right in line with the data from 2016. For agnostics, there was some drifting to the right in 2016, which will be reversed in 2020. I suspect that 80% will go for Biden, matching Obama’s share in 2008 and 2012.
The real wildcards in my mind are the nothing in particulars. They have slid significantly toward the Republicans recently. That must be reversed for Biden to become the president in January. Obama was able to carry the electoral college with two thirds of this subgroup’s vote; Biden needs to shoot for the same level of support.
This is why I’m baffled by the Biden team’s decision not to reach out specifically to Nones. They’ve hired faith outreach directors for other religious groups — including Jews, who are only 3% of the voting population — but they haven’t figured out how to tap into the growing number of Nones who may very well be persuaded by Biden’s policies.
For all the talk of peeling away some white evangelical voters, it would be far more strategic to work on exciting non-religious voters who could easily be convinced to support a candidate who doesn’t take his cues from the Religious Right, who supports evidence-based policies, who backs civil rights, and who isn’t completely out of his element. Seriously, it would be so much smarter to get non-religious non-voters to back Biden than trying to change the minds of white evangelicals who get an outsized amount of political attention.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)