The news on “nones” is the latest hot topic.(1) Not just around secular movement water coolers, but in the mainstream media. Major newspapers read: “losing our religion,” “one in five Americans reports no religious affiliation” and “labeled ‘nones’ because they claim either no religious preference or no religion at all.” While the public focus is on the changing religious identity of the average American, the takeaway for elected officials should be this: the religious unaffiliated are a growing segment of the electorate. Here are five reasons why politicians can no longer afford to ignore us:
1. Constituency Take-Over
Not just the fact that 46 million Americans are right now religiously unaffiliated, but the rate of growth is staggering! In the last five years alone, the percentage of U.S. adults who are unaffiliated with any religion increased from 15% to just under 20%. With each election, the number of unaffiliated voters grows. The religious pandering that won elections in the past, won’t fly in the future.
2. The Young Vote
Much of the growth comes from the young unaffiliated crowd coming of age. A third of adults under 30 are religiously unaffiliated and the old notion that young voters don’t make a difference no longer applies. In the last two presidential elections young voters gave the Democratic Party a majority of their votes.(2) It is unwise to alienate your most supportive voters by ignoring their demographics.
3. We May Be Persuaded
Campaigns are clamoring to appeal to the coveted undecided or non-party-line voters. Nones have a higher percentage of “Independents/other” and moderates than the general public. Here they are, now appeal to them.
4. Ahead of the Curve
Look at the trends in public opinion on major social issues and you’ll see nones ahead of the curve of the general public. 61% of nones supported same-sex marriage in 2001, when only 35% of the general public did. But the public is catching up, with support now around 50%.(3) Pay attention to nones and politicians might again be an inspiration to society.
5. It Goes Both Ways
Almost one quarter of Democratic and Democratic-Leaning registered voters are religiously unaffiliated. The party that aligns closer with nones on social issues pushes them away with unnecessary affirmations of religiosity, like awkwardly forcing God into the party platform.
Although religiously unaffiliated voters lean Democratic, the percentage of the Republican or Republican-Leaning registered voters who do not identify with a religion is growing. More than one-in-ten Republicans is being told by his or her own party that he or she is not a true American. Knock it off Republican Party, and you could court the 50% of nones who would rather have a smaller government with fewer services. Uphold the most patriotic and traditional American value of all, a secular government, or risk losing your fiscally conservative, religiously unaffiliated voters.
Let’s hope politicians keep this advice in mind as they persuade Americans to select their name on the ballot. Because when given a list of religious options, a large and growing number of voters have no problem selecting “none of the above.”