In Reason We Trust – Nov 2016

“Nones” could again decide the outcome of the election

According to the Pew Research Center, the “Nones”, a largely Democrat voting bloc comprised of atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated, could decide the results of the 2016 election, just as they did in 2012. The Nones have been growing and now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters, a quarter of registered Democrats, vote for Democrats by a ratio of almost 3 to 1, and represent 25% of all adults and 33% of all millennials. Pew’s 2007 survey found 16% of adults were religiously unaffiliated, but found 25% were in 2014, a 56% increase in 7 years. According to the Maine Secretary of State, in 2016 registered Democrats increased 16,000, Republicans increased 4,000 and there are 10,000 more Democrats and 2,000 less Republicans in Maine than there were in 2012. Voter turnout is expected to be high.

Pew Research also indicated the best predictor of how someone will vote is determined by how religious they are rather than which religion they belong to. Those who are more religious vote Republican and those who are less religious vote Democrat. Nones are quickly becoming much more secular. In 2007, 70% of Nones believed in a god, but by 2014 only 61% did.

The Public Religion Research Institute found that 30% of Hillary supporters are Nones but only 13% of Trump supporters are. They also noted that 74% of Nones regarded Trump as a poor choice but only 27% regarded Hillary the same way. In the 2012 election, Nones made up 12% of the voters and were the swing vote that put Obama back into office. The same turnout is expected for the 2016 election but it will be 12% of a much larger group that will help Hillary become our next president. If these predictions are correct, Nones will be the deciding factor in this election too, surpassing any other voter bloc.

The Republicans are trying to win by pandering to the Religious Right, as they have done since Paul Weyrich, the founder of The Heritage Foundation, formed them into a voting block that swept Reagan into office. Weyrich, who famously said, ”I Don’t Want Everybody to Vote”, thereby starting the Republican’s “Voter Suppression Campaign”, had been looking for a cause that would bind conservatives together. He got it. In 1973 Roe vs. Wade gave women the right to choose, and shortly after Weyrich used this issue to rally Republicans. Weyrich reasoned that conservatives would work harder for a cause their church supported than they would for a political cause. He was right. Instead of making abortion a political issue, Weyrich framed it as religious liberty. Since focusing on abortion and same-sex marriage the Religious Right has united various religions around a messianic / political common cause.

Younger Americans are becoming more non-religious. Most of the Nones say that organized religion’s opposition to homosexuality, equality for women or a woman’s right to choose, coupled with preaching conservative politics from the pulpit, were the major reasons why they are unaffiliated with a religion. They are also the primary reasons why they became more politically liberal. The Nones are now the single largest group to identify as Democrats.

According to Michelle Obama, in a speech she made recently, the next president will have the power to determine the direction today’s youth take for the rest of their lives because of two factors: social and legal. Socially, a president is a role model. What the president says and the attitudes they express about women, people of color, immigrants and those attracted to the same sex will shape the attitudes of America’s youth. Legally, nominating at least four justices to the Supreme Court who support equality, voters rights, immigrants, same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose will affect America’s laws for the next 30 years.

I encourage everyone to get out and vote. We have seen what 12% of Nones accomplished in the 2012 election. A 20% Nones voter turnout in 2016 could have a much larger impact. Even though it is a losing strategy, Republicans are likely to continue their appeal to the Religious Right, especially with Pence being Trump’s VP pick. They will win that increasingly narrow voter bloc, but will most likely lose the votes of the growing number of Nones who value individual freedom, freedom of religion and the freedom to not believe in any religion. As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a changing”.