The Nones, those of no religious affiliation (including atheists), are a rising force in politics. There are several policy discussions about how to attract the Nones. The Republican Party has a large interest in the Nones, because, this is the single largest (non-)religious block of Democratic voters.
Seventy percent of the None vote went to Barack Obama in the 2012 election.
And that slice of the electorate is something that I don’t think the GOP can understand. There are three main groups in the Nones.
The atheists are the most obvious none group. These are people who directly reject the existence of gods, do not believe in any gods, and/or do not think one way or another about gods (thus including the agnostics). Atheism is still a bad word in America and self-identified atheists are the smallest group considered a None. Atheists (as different from the other two groups) tend to be white, male, and younger, with a high level of education (Pew Survey results).
The unattached believers is a second group in the Nones. These are people that are considered religious, but do not belong to or consider themselves a part of a specific religion or religious group. These “Nothing in particulars” much more closely match the general US population in terms of ethnicity, gender, and education (see Pew Survey result link above).
The final group is the secularists. This is a group that is neither of the other two. People who don’t believe, but aren’t willing to claim atheism.
This is in sharp contrast to the general Republican voter. Nearly eight in 10 Romney supporters identify as white Christians, compared to four in 10 Obama supporters. There is a big generation gap among white Christians: While seven in 10 seniors put themselves in this category, just three in 10 millennials do.
These are the groups that are lumped together into the Nones and that’s part of the problem. How does a politician court a group that contains the most militant of antitheists and the “ehh whatevers”?
Take this statement, for example, from the 2012 Republican Party Platform (PDF)
We pledge to respect the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard the independence of their institutions from government. We support the public display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and of our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage, and we affirm the right of students to engage in prayer at public school events in public schools and to have equal access to public schools and other public facilities to accommodate religious freedom in the public square. We assert every citizen’s right to apply religious values to public policy and the right of faith-based organizations to participate fully in public programs without renouncing their beliefs, removing religious symbols, or submitting to government-imposed hiring practices. We oppose government discrimination against businesses due to religious views. We support the First Amendment right of freedom of association of the Boy Scouts of America and other service organizations whose values are under assault and condemn the State blacklisting of religious groups which decline to arrange adoptions by same-sex couples. We condemn the hate campaigns, threats of violence, and vandalism by proponents of same-sex marriage against advocates of traditional marriage and call for a federal investigation into attempts to deny religious believers their civil rights.
I will freely admit and I don’t think anyone can deny that the Nones are a very diverse group. But how can a party that created a statement like this successfully woo groups that are in direct opposition (or at least apathetic) to this policy?
The problem is that the Republicans cannot keep their base and court the Nones. An attempt to gain support from a few percentage points in the None category could radically backfire with their highly conservative, white, Christian voters and end up doing more harm than good to GOP candidates.
Democrats, on the other hand, can and do have a grasp on the None vote. Nones seem to be much more socially liberal.
I think if the Democrats want to keep the nones, they’re going to have to continue to work for it, because we’re becoming more of an organized movement, and one that is a little tired of feeling ignored,” [Lauren Anderson Youngblood of the Secular Coalition of America] says. “We’re Americans, we’re taxpayers, we’re citizens, we contribute to society, and we want the same thing that other groups want, which is to have a seat at the table. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/335763/nones-and-gop-betsy-woodruff
No one is going after the Nones. This is likely for several reasons. The GOP really can’t go after the nones, as I mentioned. The Democrats feel that the Nones are still anathema to many people in the US and are scared about taking the hit.
But the real reason that I think the Democrats have a large percentage of the None vote is not because of what they want, but to keep something truly abhorrent out of office. The GOP, as stated in their platform, are not the most… connected… with reality. They have been in a position of power for so long that equality with others feels like them being oppressed.
Some of them really think that the US is a nation based on Christianity. Some of them really think that hurting others is OK if they aren’t Christian. And we’ve seen what they do when in power in congress (essentially nothing). The thought of having a group with a great deal of power, a persecution complex, and a loose connection with reality in charge scares the heck out of me.
I vote the way I do not because I think that the Democrats are the best choice, but because any vote that doesn’t go to the Democrats increases the chance of a Republican win. For the record, in all of the non-legislature , governor, lt. governor, or president elections, I generally vote the Green Party. Heh, perhaps the Green Party should specifically court the Nones.
There’s a final issue with being a None voter. It’s distribution. In general, most voting blocks are geographical. In general, there are more Hispanic voters along the border states. In general, there are more fundamentalist Christian voters in the Deep South. In general, there are more liberal voters in large cities.
But the Nones are spread out all over the place. There’s no concentration of them that, in one election, could give a critical mass to one candidate or another. This results in a gerrymander-like effect, where, even though we vote, we never get one of our people elected.
There are groups that are getting involved in politics. The Secular Coalition for America is one such group that has concerted lobbying efforts in Washington D.C.
Soon though, not within the next 5 years probably, but soon, the Nones will have a representative in congress. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.