Secular voters could very well determine the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections.
The ranks of atheists, agnostics and those with no religious affiliation - “the Nones” - have increased by 19 million since Barack Obama was first elected president, making them the fastest-growing group by religious identification in America. In 2004, the Nones comprised just 16 percent of all American adults, but have now grown to a represent roughly a quarter of all adults and a third of millennials.
The Nones have been traditionally underrepresented at the ballot box, but that’s changing. The religiously unaffiliated accounted for 15 percent of voters in the 2016 presidential elections, a 3 percentage point increase since 2012. The coming election will quite possibly see a further uptick in this number.
“Religiously unaffiliated voters, who may or may not be associated with other civic institutions, seem most excited about supporting or donating to causes, going to rallies, and expressing opinions online, among other activities,” states a recent Atlantic magazine analysis. “Political engagement may be providing these Americans with a new form of identity.”
A just-released Freedom From Religion Foundation online survey of 8,500 secular voters reveals a bloc of highly educated, frequent voters determined to counter the Religious Right’s clout and who would strongly support nonreligious candidates. Politicians can tap into this potent force with the right message - and leave the religious pandering behind.
Respondents reacted positively to learning about the 10-member Congressional Freethought Caucus launched earlier this year, indicating that the caucus should prioritize mandating science-based education in schools, ending tax breaks for churches, and protecting women’s health care against religious zealots. And when asked what is the most dangerous threat to the separation of church and state in America, the top response was President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, followed by “religious freedom” bills advancing in state legislatures across the country.
The growing influence of secular voters parallels an increasing secularization of U.S. society.
“Relatively few Americans consider it crucial that a candidate be devoutly religious or share their religious beliefs,” according to a poll released last month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The new Congress will have the power to settle the question of whether the Religious Right will continue to hold sway in Washington. The fierce battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrates the importance of the nation’s judiciary, and the “Nones” are supremely invested in judicial appointments upholding the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
If candidates want to earn secular votes, they should acknowledge the presence of secular citizens in American society, while committing to keep religion out of government. Secular voters are the true voice of The Enlightenment. And in this election, they could very well be the group deciding the results.
Annie Laurie Gaylor is co-president of Freedom from Religion Foundation (www.ffrf.org), a Madison, Wis.-based, nonpartisan and educational nonprofit organization that acts as a state/church watchdog and does not endorse candidates.