The 'Nones' Are the 'Small but Mighty' Group Voting for Dems

Per AP VoteCast, voters with no religious affiliation supported Dem candidates, by a lot, in midterms
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 3, 2022 11:30 AM CST
The 'Nones' Are the 'Small but Mighty' Group Voting for Dems
Signs are tacked to the wall at Protect Kentucky Access' election watch party in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 8. In Kentucky, a reliably Republican state, voters rejected a GOP-backed ballot measure aimed at denying any state constitutional protections for abortion. Among those voting "no" were 60% of Catholic...   (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP, FILE)

When members of the small Pennsylvania chapter of Secular Democrats of America log on for their monthly meetings, they're not there for a virtual happy hour. "We don't sit around at our meetings patting ourselves on the back for not believing in God together," said founder David Brown. The group, mostly consisting of atheists and agnostics, mobilizes to knock on doors and make phone calls on behalf of Democratic candidates "who are pro-science, pro-democracy, whether or not they are actually self-identified secular people," Brown said. "We are trying to keep church and state separate. That encompasses LGBTQIA+, COVID science, bodily autonomy, and reproductive rights." Brown describes his group as "small but mighty," yet they're riding a big wave.

Voters with no religious affiliation supported Democratic candidates and abortion rights by staggering percentages in the 2022 midterm elections, and they're voting in large numbers, per the AP. In 2022, some 22% of voters claimed no religious affiliation, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide. They contributed to voting coalitions that gave Democrats victories in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona. The unaffiliated—often nicknamed the "nones"—voted for Democratic House candidates nationwide over Republicans by more than a 2-1 margin (65% to 31%), according to VoteCast. That echoes the 2020 president election, when Democrat Joe Biden took 72% of voters with no religious affiliation, while Republican Donald Trump took 25%, according to VoteCast.

For all the talk of the overwhelmingly Republican voting by white evangelical Christians in recent elections, the unaffiliated are making their presence felt. Among all US adults, 29% are nones—those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or "nothing in particular"—according to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. That's up 10 percentage points from a decade earlier, per Pew. And the younger the adults, the more likely they are to be unaffiliated, according to a 2019 Pew analysis, further signaling the growing clout of the nones. Atheists and agnostics form only a subset of nones and are less numerous than evangelicals. But they're more likely than evangelicals to make a campaign donation, attend a political meeting, or join a protest, says Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University, citing the Harvard-affiliated Cooperative Election Study.

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"When you consider how involved they are in political activity, you realize how important they are at the ballot box," he adds. Several prominent GOP candidates and their supporters have promoted Christian nationalism, which fuses an American and Christian sense of identity, mission, and symbols. That prompts a reaction by many secular voters, Burge said: "At least among white people, it's become clear the Democratic Party has become the party for the nonreligious people." Yet it's not their party alone. The Democratic coalition draws heavily from religious groups: Black Protestants, liberal Jews, and Catholics of color. The Black church tradition, in particular, has a highly devout base in support of moderate and progressive policies. "The Democrats have the biggest problem in the world because they have to keep atheists and Black Protestants happy at the same time," Burge says.

(More secularism stories.)

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