“Nones” Are Starting to Drive the Electoral Bus… The Beginning of the End of the Religious Right?

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There has been a lot of talk about the demographics of Obama’s Election Day win. He won just about every demographic group except WASP men and old people, and he won fairly decisively. Of course, this reality doesn’t bode will for the Republican Party’s future. because whites are becoming less of a majority. We won't become a minority until 2042, but let's face it; the white advantage won't end magically when we go below 50%. Long before then, the numbers will slowly dwindle, making dependence on white people alone a fool’s errand for Republicans.

But there is another, less-talked-about group that helped lead President Obama to victory, and it should have Republicans shaking in their boots. They’re called “Nones,” and their numbers are growing by leaps and bounds. 

Nones have been a staple demographic among sociologsts since the term was coined, apparently in the late 1960s. An early mention of this term was made in: Glenn M. Vernon, "The Religious 'Nones': A Neglected Category," Journal For the Scientific Study of Religion, 7:2 (1968). The term refers to people with no religious affiliation.  Of course that group includes atheists and agnostics, but it also includes a lot of people who claim spiritual beliefs, including belief in a deity.

Over the past decade or so, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in its annual study, has documented the rise of the None population, as well as a rise in their influence in society, including our politics. Their latest report estimates that nearly one-third of all people who believe in a deity or who consider themselves spiritual have no religious affiliation. Nones now make up 20% of the national electorate. (Source: “’Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, October 9, 2012)

Republicans had better pay attention, because None ties to the Democratic Party are as strong as the evangelicals’ ties to the GOP. They tend to be a very young, and they lose their taste for religion because of what they see as the traditional intolerance of many religious groups for anything “different.” They tend to know people of color and gay people, and don’t see them as different from themselves to any great degree, so they are a bit intolerant of the intolerance they see from the religions they grew up in. They tend to be socially liberal, and “small-l” libertarian. Because of this, they tend to be in favor of Obamacare, because they believe everyone should have the right to health care, and they also tend to believe that we should be taking care of people, and worrying less about how much they pay in taxes than what those taxes buy.  They actually see social welfare programs in a positive light, because they believe we should take care of each other, without the "(often phony) "Biblical teachings" trappings. 

In other words, they are something like the anti-evangelicals. And did I mention, their numbers are growing?

Nones were out in full force this past Election Day, and they were overwhelmingly in favor of Obama.  In Iowa, for example, Protestants and Catholics favored Romney in the final pre-election polls, but Obama still led the state by five points,even though those two groups represented 88% of the electorate. The reason was the Nones, who favored Obama by a whopping fifty-two points.  In Ohio, the “Nones” made up 12% of voters, but favored Obama by a whopping 47 points. In Virginia and Florida, Nones represented 10% and 15% of voters, respectively, but they gave Obama 76% and 72% of their votes. Nationally, Obama lost protestants by 15 points and won Catholics by two points, but he got 70% of the Nones' vote, so it almost didn't matter.   (Source)

This is huge. This is our future. People are tiring of hardcore religious doctrine that dictates the way and realizing that belief in God doesn’t require an adherence to a specific doctrine or set of rituals.  But more importantly, Nones are rejecting the concept that politics and religion are intertwined, and they're actively working against that concept.  Again; these folks are not hardcore atheists; most believe in God.  Young people are tiring of being told how to think, act and vote by their religious leaders, and are learning to think about what’s right on their own.

Separation of church and state was written into our Constitution for a reason, and it looks as though, after a generation in which we forgot its meaning, people are finally learning how important it is to keep church and government separate, and the perils of mixing the two. 

The “Nones” are at the cutting edge of our post-Religious Right world, and their numbers will continue to grow. This growth means two things; the Republican Party’s very existence will be in increased danger the longer they depend on extremist religious views to guide their policy. It also means the Democratic Party is probably on a permanent upswing. If we progressives want a progressive country, we’ll take advantage of this major advantage.

The religious right is losing its advantage. Let's make the best of it. 

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  1. I guess what I meant was that you can’t really reach out to these people in the way that Republican candidates reach out to evangelical Christians by using certain code phrases. Or maybe you can. The code phrases in this case would be phrases like “science,” “education,” “reality” and similar radical ideas.

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