Consider this: Evangelicals Christians new represent about 22.5% of the country. Catholics make up about 23%. And the “Nones” are 23.1%. All three groups are roughly equivalent.
Consider this: As recently as 2018, 81% of white evangelicals supported Republicans (the same number that voted for Donald Trump in 2016) while 75% of Nones backed Democrats.
Slight difference, but basically polar opposites.
And now consider that Republicans go out of their way to make sure white evangelicals and conservative Catholics are part of their tent (and their beliefs promoted through legislation)… while Democrats have historically avoided Secular Americans.
In an article for FiveThirtyEight, Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ask why Democrats are “ignoring” us given those numbers.
The unaffiliated are a key demographic for Democratic candidates in particular. More than one-third of the people who voted for Clinton in 2016 were religiously unaffiliated, making them just as electorally important for Democrats as white evangelical Protestants are for Republicans. Yet despite constantly hearing about the importance of white evangelical voters in an election cycle, Democratic politicians have been slow to embrace the growing number of nonreligious people who vote for them. Why?
Some of the answers are obvious:
- We don’t regularly gather anywhere.
- We don’t have “leaders,” per se. (The heads of the largest atheist groups in the country still represent a mere fraction of atheists overall.)
- It could be toxic to embrace the non-religious and create an opening for Republicans to do their “culture war” posturing about how Democrats supposedly hate religion… though the GOP will always do that anyway.
- We aren’t reliable voters in the same way white evangelicals are.
Still, the authors say there’s good reason for Democrats to try reaching out to the Nones. Especially now.
… Although Trump is not an overtly pious figure, he’s embraced a vision of American culture that privileges Christian identity and heritage. That’s a view that most nonreligious Americans reject, which is likely a part of the reason that their support for Biden is so high, despite the campaign’s minimal outreach efforts. In the coming years, though, that calculus might have to change, since the growing size of the country’s nonreligious population could make these voters more difficult for Democrats to ignore.
I would go even further than that. Secular Americans don’t just dislike the GOP’s embrace of white evangelical identity politics; Democratic Party policies, by and large, overlap with what most of us want.
We respect science and expertise. We want religious freedom for everyone instead of religious privilege for select groups. We want public policy that’s based on reason and evidence, instead of what may benefit certain religious people. We want separation of church and state, not special treatment for faith leaders.
Even more, considering this is the only life we have, many of us want to fight for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. We don’t want to see people suffer. We want to level a playing field that disproportionately hurts people of color and minority groups. We want a reckoning, not a whitewashing, of our own history.
I obviously can’t speak for everyone who’s not religious. But the short version is this: The values many Humanists cherish are values that many Democrats promote. As the authors put it, “Democrats can reach this group simply by doing what they’re already doing.” All they need to do is make the connection a little more explicit.
Keep in mind we’re not demanding that the government promote atheism for us. We want neutrality. It’s hardly a radical position.
If Democratic candidates were more overt about the importance of non-religious support, it could even drive more of us to vote. Would it alienate some religious people? I can’t imagine that advocating for our shared goals, which some progressive Democrats already do, would push away more people than it would bring in. It’s not like we’re asking Joe Biden to advocate for atheism; instead, he should point out that his values, guided by his faith, are also shared by the growing number of non-religious Americans across the country who care about kindness, compassion, and basic human decency.
The fear shouldn’t be that some people may vote for Republicans if the outreach is too heavy-handed. It’s that some people may not vote at all because they feel politicians aren’t paying attention to them. It plays to Democrats’ interests to keep Secular Americans excited and engaged.
It’s not too late for the Biden campaign to make more direct moves in our direction. It’s also not too late — and arguably easier — for down-ballot Democratic candidates to do the same.