Decline of the Fundamentalists – How the ‘Nones’ are Taking Back US Politics for Democracy

By Rosa Rubicondior | 14 November 2022
Rosa Rubicondior Blog


Americans who aren’t sure about God are a fast-growing force in politics – and they’re typically even more politically active than white evangelicals

With the raucous jabber of evangelicals drowning out other, quieter, more measured voices in American politics, a non-American like me could be forgiven for thinking they are the major force in US politics, and they have had some, hopefully short-term, successes such as getting Trump elected in 2016 and him then stuffing SCOTUS with right-wing Christian extremists who promptly overturned Roe vs Wade. But there are more measured and thoughtful voices also beginning to exert a moderating and humanitarian influence, especially in the Democratic Party. They are the growing number of ‘Nones’, or people with no religious affiliations.

Of course this include Atheists/Agnostics, but it also includes people for whom religion is a personal thing that doesn’t require affiliation to any one organised religion, although studies have shown that ‘None’ tends to be a half-way house between religious and Atheist as the loss of group affiliation tends to free the individual to look dispassionately at the (lack of) evidence, free from peer-pressure, and draw the rational conclusion – there is no evidential reason for religious belief.

The evidence is that the ‘Nones’ could have been behind Biden’s win in 2020, helping to secure swing states, since 1 in 5 Americans adults and more than 1 in 3 Democrat voters are now ‘None’, and since ‘Nones’ tend to be generally more informed, it would be surprising if they weren’t having an effect on US politics.

In the following article, reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency, Ryan Burge, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University, USA, gives his assessment of the impact the ‘Nones’ are now having on American politics. The original article can be read here:

In 2008, almost 8% of the entire U.S. population claimed to be atheist or agnostic, according to my analysis of data from the Cooperative Election Study, or CES – an annual survey coordinated by a team at Harvard University. Atheists believe that there is no higher power in the universe, while agnostics contend that a higher power may exist but it’s impossible to know for certain.

By 2021, that share had risen to just about 12%. But atheists and agnostics are often left-leaning in their political persuasion, and their rapid ascendance in the American religious landscape is proving much more consequential to the Democratic Party than the GOP.

Just 4% of people who align with the Republican Party say that they are atheist or agnostic. That same figure was 3% when Barack Obama won the White House in 2008.

However, according to my analysis of the CES data, 1 in 5 Democrats today are atheist or agnostic, an increase of eight percentage points from 2008.

Getting to the ballot box

Just because these groups have increased as a percentage of the overall population does not necessarily mean their growth will translate to political wins during the 2022 midterms. While political scientists have struggled with how to measure voter turnout through survey data, it’s possible to use other measures to infer just how politically active atheists and agnostics are – and there’s strong evidence that they will make their presence felt on Election Day.

However, when it comes to political protests, there’s no doubt that secular Americans are more politically engaged. In 2020, 18% of atheists and 16% of agnostics said that they had gone to a march or rally about a political issue, versus just 5% of white evangelicals, based on CES data. When it comes to donations, the gulf is even wider. In 2020, half of all atheists made a political donation, along with 43% of agnostics. In comparison, only about a quarter of white evangelicals made a political donation to a candidate or party.

This article was written before the mid-term vote which saw an anticipated ‘red wave’ turn out to be a barely noticed dribble, Donald Trump’s endorsement of candidates turn out to be the kiss of death, and one of the best mid-term results for the party of the incumbent Presidents in US history, so it is entirely possible that Professor Ryan Burge is right.

The increasing number of ‘Nones’ with a corresponding fall in the number of self-identified evangelicals is beginning to have a positive impact on US politics and helping to maintain Thomas Jefferson’s ‘wall of separation’ between church and state. If Donald Trump’s term as POTUS and the craven support he got from the white right evangelical churches, drove many people away from organised religion, then at least some good might have come from an otherwise unmitigated disaster.

Rosa Rubicondior (a pseudonym) is a retired data analyst, biologist, blogger, author and atheist.

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