Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Non-religious Vote

Americans who are not religious are rarely referred to as voters who have a specific political leaning, or vote as a block. Perhaps this is in part a media slant that perpetuates the myths that non-religious Americans are an insignificant factor or have no specific political viewpoint.

The number of Americans identifying themselves as atheist or agnostic rose from under 2 million in 2001 to 3.8 million in 2008. However, as large as that group is there is a much larger group that are simply not religious. According to a recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) “ “…18% (about 40 million Americans) do not profess a belief in a God.”
Regardless of political party some sort of profession of a religious faith is almost mandatory to get elected in America today. We have finally reached the point in our society where being a woman or black is only a slight disadvantage. Being gay or a Muslim is a bigger hurdle to overcome but being openly not religious today in America makes it really hard to get elected even though the Founding Fathers wrote into the Constitution that there should be no religious test for elected office.
While it is common knowledge that black Christians are heavily Democratic and white Evangelicals are heavily Republican most people don’t know where most non-Christian beliefs fall in the political spectrum.
According to the 2008 PEW Foundation statistical survey their poll was:

Group Republican lean Republican Independent lean Demo Democrat
National 26 10 10 15 32
Evangelical 38 12 9 10 24
Black Church 7 3 6 12 66
Orthodox 27 8 8 18 32
Catholics 23 10 10 15 33
Mormons 52 13 8 7 15
Jews 17 6 8 18 47
Muslims 7 4 10 26 37
Buddhists 10 8 9 30 37
Hindus 6 7 13 22 41
Unaffiated 13 10 15 24 31
Other faiths 7 6 15 29 37

Those who are not affiliated with any religious belief are Democrat or tend toward Democrat by 55% to 23% margin, even though this is a group that Democrats largely ignore. Also, the non-religious, at 15%, have the highest percentage of independent voters of any group. So, there is a large group that could be swayed to vote more Democrat with a little effort.
What surprised me about this survey was how Republican Mormons are. Perhaps this is because of the historical view of the federal government being an intrusive force in their close-knit society. They are much more Republican than Evangelicals. In fact, 34% of Evangelicals tend to be Democrats. I knew black Christians and Jews have traditionally been Democrats, but Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus all lean Democratic by over 60%. It should be no surprise that only 11% of Muslims are Republican considering how often they are demonized by Republicans.

I think that non-religious is a more accurate term than non-believer because the non-religious have their beliefs too. Humanists, Unitarians, Pantheists and for the most part Buddhists certainly have beliefs, but they aren’t religious beliefs. Their beliefs are rooted in philosophy, ethics, human experience and values.

One reason the non-religious are as high as 23% Republican is that many Libertarians are atheists. Ayn Rand was an atheist and many have bought into her whole philosophy. This group is in sharp disagreement with the Humanists and Unitarians who tend to be very liberal and tolerant of other viewpoints and beliefs. A large percentage of Americans for Separation of Church and State are non-religious liberals who believe strongly in maintaining the wall of separation of church and state and that their should be freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

In the PEW survey Hindus and Jews had the highest percentage of college graduates and advanced degrees. I don’t know the statistics but I do know from personal experience in both Humanist and Unitarian groups that most of the people I have known are college graduates. Other beliefs that the PEW survey shows to divide along religious and political lines are a belief in evolution and global warming. In fact, 81% of Buddhists believe in evolution while only 77% of unaffiliated accept evolution although if you only surveyed atheists and agnostics I’m sure the figure would be higher.

What can Democrats learn from this? The most obvious thing, right at the top of the chart, is nationally we have a lot more people who prefer the values the Democrats stand for but its harder to motivate these people to get out and vote in their self interest. Another thing these figures bare out is that just by being inclusive and standing up for the 99% we are attracting a solid majority of non-Christians as well as liberal Christians without even making a concerted effort to win them over. By simply recognizing that non-religious Americans should be treated just like other Americans Democrats will be taking the moral high ground and I believe will benefit politically in the long run.

Dave Silva

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