A couple weeks ago I did a post about the growing political influence of the “nones” — those who do not identify with any particular religion (but not necessarily atheists; only about 25% of the nones identify as atheists). The post was based on a report from the Public Religion Research Institute (which I mistakenly called the Public Religion Research Service) about how the nones voted in this election. Juhem Navarro-Rivera, who works for the PRRI, emailed me to tell me that he’s a longtime Dispatches reader (very cool) and to point me to a piece he wrote about how nones have voted in presidential elections historically. The results aren’t terribly surprising:
An exploration of the unaffiliated vote since 1980s shows two interesting features: first, the Democratic advantage among this group is not a recent phenomenon but stretches back at least as far as 1984, and second, that unaffiliated voters display unusually robust support for third-party and independent candidates.
In recent presidential elections, unaffiliated voters preferred the Democratic Party presidential candidates by a significant margin. As Figure 1 shows, between 1984 and 2000, about 6-in-10 unaffiliated voters preferred the Democratic candidate. Since 2004, the Democratic advantage has increased among these voters has increased from roughly 30 points to about 50 points. Although Obama is currently underperforming his 2008 support among many religious groups, he is poised to match his vote margin among the unaffiliated…Since 1980, unaffiliated voters have been strong supporters of Democratic presidential candidates. No Republican candidate has received more than one-third of the unaffiliated vote since 1988. As the unaffiliated have grown as a share of voters they have also become an increasingly important part of the religious coalition of Democratic candidates. In 2000, the unaffiliated accounted for 12% of Gore’s coalition. The American Values Survey shows that the unaffiliated are now the largest segment of Obama’s religious base at 23%.
The one bad thing he reports is that a fairly significant number of nones don’t bother to vote at all. I’m certainly not surprised either that nones skew heavily Democratic or that they also support third party candidates at a higher rate than other groups, especially as an atheist myself who usually votes third party (Jill Stein this year). The important thing here is that nones are a growing and important block of voters. We’re gaining a bit of leverage we can use to influence policy. And that’s a very good thing.