Why Aren’t the Democrats Reaching Out to Secular Americans?

Two charts stand out from the Public Religion Research Institute’s latest report (PDF) about the Millennial generation (ages 18-25) and their voting habits. And while the media coverage of the report focuses mostly on the race issues, the religious aspects of it are fascinating in their own right.

The first chart isn’t surprising at all until you consider the implications of it:

It shows that the religiously “Unaffiliated” (atheists, agnostics, those who are religious but don’t use any religious label, etc.) overwhelmingly support President Obama while white evangelical Christians are supporting Mitt Romney.

What stuns me is that, while Republicans have always reached out to Christians, the Democrats are doing next to nothing to court the votes of Secular Americans. They still consider us politically toxic. The GOP isn’t interested in our votes, so the Democrats would be doing themselves a favor by talking to us, courting us, and taking our issues seriously. When they don’t, we may not vote Republican, but we may end up not voting at all or voting for a third party candidate.

That’s a wasted opportunity on their end, especially when you consider how quickly our numbers are rising and how — let’s face it — we don’t really have any other realistic option.

The second chart surprises me a little more. This one talks about how comfortable Millennials are voting for candidates with certain religious backgrounds:

Look at the far left — only a third of Millennials are uncomfortable with an evangelical Christian. A third! After growing up in the George W. Bush era, I figured that number would be far lower. And only 43% of Millennials would be comfortable with an atheist president? Considering that 25% of Millennials are religiously unaffiliated, that 43% number really ought to be higher.

We’re currently rated at the same comfort level as Mormons and (unfortunately) far better than Muslims, who are most likely unpopular due to misguided stereotypes about them and not their actual beliefs.

Sarah Posner has a few additional notes on the numbers behind this report.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Houndentenor

    I suspect that they think they ARE reaching out to unaffiliated/nonreligious/skeptical/atheist Americans by actually mentioning us from time to time.  Like people used to “include” gay people and then think they had done gay people a great service just by not completely ignoring them (or worse).  It’s up to the reality-based community to communicate to those in power that we expect more.

    • ortcutt

      Do you want them to cater to non-bowlers too?  I hear all the time that being non-religious is like being a non-bowler.  So, either decide whether you want to make this an “identity-issue” or whether it’s just about secular political goals.  Me.  I just want separation of church and state to be respected, public policy not being made on the basis of the Bible, and science being acknowledged in public policy and education.  If you want to make atheism into a religion and a special interest and have your ass kissed AS AN ATHEIST, then go ahead but count me out.

      • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

        Maybe if there was less brown nosing of the religious atheists would care less

      • Drew M.

        You sound just like those Christians who think LGBT equality is a “special interest.”

        • ortcutt

          I don’t believe that at all.

      • monyNH

         What is with this obsession with ass-kissing? Seriously, you’ve used that phrase in every post, sometimes twice…

  • Gregory Lynn

    We’ve got no place to go but home and they think that courting us would cost them votes from folks who would vote the other way.

    Also, we’re not organized politically.

  • theophilus166

    I’m not sure most millennials can accurately describe what an evangelical or born-again Christian even is. 

  • Rupert MacLanahan

    They don’t treat you as toxic, they take you for granted. They know that most non-believers will vote with the democrats no matter what idiotic and half-baked policies the democrats come up with on economics, security, crime and punishment, etc etc.  The problem is that since the GOP has essentially become an official wing of the religious right, most secularists see little alternative to supporting the dems not matter what, always picking the lesser of two evils.  Of course, if you always pick the lesser of two evils, you are always left with . . . evil.

    I, for one, would welcome a secular alternative that wasn’t tied to a leftist dogmatic ideology, but it does not exist (the so-called “National Atheist Party” has a platform that is even more ideological and dogmatic than the dems have.

  • C Peterson

    On the whole they would be foolish (from a political viewpoint) to bring us up at all. They’ve got our vote, no matter what. By avoiding the topic, they might expect to at least avoid further distancing themselves from the large number of people who think the non-religious are just a step away from Satan himself.

    Put a little differently, as a cold calculation, it’s likely that while courting seculars probably wouldn’t have a large impact, it’s still likely to cost Democrats a few more undecided Republican voters than it is to gain a few more undecided Democratic ones.

    • ortcutt

      “Seculars” is an unfortunate term here because it means two different things.  On the one hand, it means non-religious people.  On the other hand, it means people who support political secularism.  I want to be courted as a person who supports political secularism, but I sure as hell don’t want to be courted as a non-religious person.  The whole point about political secularism is that I don’t want to be courted as a non-religious person.  I seems like there are a lot of needy atheists who want a shout-out, and frankly I just find that sad.  I don’t need or want a shout-out from any political candidates.

      • C Peterson

        I agree the term is ambiguous. I generally use “secular” as a noun to indicate people who are non-religious, and “secularist” as a noun to indicate people who advocate political secularism.

        Sometimes it is apparent from context which meaning is intended; when not, it should generally be made clear.

        • Zyan

          I am a Humanist, 1st and foremost, that means I am a Atheist/Secularist……..I`m comfortable with any of these labels.Ive been an atheist for the past 62 years, since early childhood/old enough to differentiate between fact and fiction!            

          • C Peterson

            But there is no problem with a theist being a humanist, so you do need to be clear, depending on who you’re talking with.

  • John of Indiana

    Because we have Cooties.

    They take us for granted because what, we’re going to vote for the party of Pat Robertson and the AFA? Not on your life.
    So the only choices we have is vote Dem, vote Libertaretard (as bad as voting GOP) and sitting on a stool in Spendyerbux bitching about how you’re “withholding” your vote, which will one day guarantee you’ll be living in a Dominionist theocracy.

    • CelticWhisper

      There’s the Green party as well, which is your best bet if you want a strongly left-of-center alignment in your candidates.

      There’s no way I’m supporting a second Obama term, and no more chance that I’d support the by-and-for-the-rich Romney as his replacement either.  It’s Stein, Johnson or bust for me.

      • John of Indiana

        May as well mark my ballot here at home and flush it down the shitter or go to the polls and REALLY pull the lever for RMoney, instead of just symbolically.
        Dump the Electoral College, then we can talk other parties.

  • ortcutt

    Frankly, I’m getting a little sick and tired of non-religious people complaining about being neglected by Democrats.  The Obama Administration took a very controversial stance in supporting Contraception Coverage and religious people screamed bloody murder.  They took a great risk of alienating religious voters, but they did it anyway because it was the right thing to do for women.  And a bunch of whiners like Hemant want to sit there and say “Why won’t you kiss my ass further?”  Screw you whiners.  There’s something wrong with needy people who feel the need to have their asses osculated constantly in order to made to feel special. 

    • ortcutt

       I’m really serious about this, folks.  We’ve got a Republican Party that would enshrine Christianity as the official religion of the US and ship us all off the Madagascar, and Hemants wants to whine about the Democrats not kissing our asses hard enough.  This is why I hate “organized atheism”.

      • http://v1car.wordpress.com/ The Vicar

        Obama wants to enshrine Christianity, too, but he wants to move a little slower than the Republicans do. He has ramped up “faith-based initiatives”, he hasn’t challenged anyone over church-state separation even though there have been several very good opportunities*, he quite literally forced God into the Democratic platform at the convention (the platform is supposed to be settled by 2/3 majority, the motion didn’t make it, and Obama had it inserted by fiat over the objections of the attendees).

        *During that same time, his legal team was arguing in court against gay rights (right up until Obama decided he needed a wedge issue) and prosecuting whistleblowers like Bradley Manning (which he explicitly said he wouldn’t do). So please don’t bother saying “oh, but the executive branch doesn’t have any influence over the justice system” because it does; it prosecutes and defends cases, and the choice of which cases to prosecute or defend and which to leave alone is, as with the Supreme Court, a primitive method of forwarding political goals.

        You’ve bought into the idea that since Obama isn’t pure evil, he must be good. He isn’t. He’s evil, too — just as bad as the Republicans in almost every way, but smart enough to move gradually rather than trying to force everything through at once. He wants to start more wars, he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare (he already tried to do so, and only failed because the Republicans were too racist to let a black president take any action), he wants to increase military funding beyond its already-bloated 54% of the discretionary budget, he has argued in court that he can assassinate and detain anyone he likes — citizen or not — with no oversight. Make no mistake; if you are against any of those things, you should be against Obama as much as you are against the Republicans.

        If, on the other hand, you’re willing to cheer for Emperor Palpatine instead of Darth Vader because Palpatine will have you worked to death over a period of years while Darth Vader will blow you up now, then go ahead. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    • mobathome

      Don’t feed the troll.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AndresHelgi Andrés Helgi Valgarðsson

    Basically, since they already have secular votes, going out of their way to court them would only potentially lose them religious votes. It’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ from their point of view.

  • The Captain

    Other than taking the secular vote for granted, why do they not do more to reach out to us is frankly the same answer as to why they do not do more to fight hard for abortion rights, worker and union rights, why they don’t stand up for tougher environmental and wall street regulation. It’s the same answer as to why the democrats do not fight harder for gay rights, universal heath care for all or free eduction. They are not really a liberal party!

    • monyNH

       Rupert up there thinks the Democratic Party is leftist…you think they’re not liberal enough. Sounds like they can’t win for losing.

  • LesterBallard

    Doesn’t the previous post answer this question?

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Yes, exactly. You beat me to it. Even as Sally Quinn tried to complain about too much political pandering to the religious, she fortified it with an asinine and vile expression of this country’s pervasive bigotry against atheists.  The Democrats are even taking a chance just giving us a nod once in a while with the phrase “and nonbelievers” in speeches listing all kinds of people who are Americans. We’re still too radioactive for them to actually talk to us. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Benjamin-Hamilton/1169648654 Benjamin Hamilton

        There is no reason that the Democrats should talk to us.  They basically have the same ideals as we do but understand political pragmatism in that getting done what we want takes time.  Who gives a shit about NOT believing in god?  Seems dumb to try to pander to.  Believing that all people are created equal, on the other hand, seems like a worthy effort.  Democrats work for that.  As far as I can tell….

  • A3Kr0n

    The charts mean nothing to me without keys. Even if democrats courted atheists I still wouldn’t vote for them with their ever increasing entitlement programs, and endless undeclared wars in other countries. FUCK DEMOCRATS and FUCK REPUBLICANS.

  • arlocrescent

    This article and its comments demonstrate some pretty naive thinking about the actual work done for political campaigns.  If you’ve ever been heavily involved in one, you know that campaigns go where crowds form or where foot traffic is heavy.  We stand outside the farmer’s market, supermarket, and the post office. 
    We make phone calls to people who have demonstrated that they will vote.

    When you tell me where the secularlists hold their weekly meetings, we’ll show up.  (Especially if it’s in a bar–I’d show up.)  But you know yourselves that any gatherings you do have are far less regularly attended and gather far fewer people than religious services or commercial centers.

    I’d love to reach out to you… so I’ll see you on the sidewalk outside the Price Chopper on Saturday, OK?

    • Drew M.

      So you’re the asshole interrupting my dinner.

      • arlocrescent

         Yes.

      • arlocrescent

         I’d also like to point out that I am sacrificing my entire night.  The fund-raisers are the real assholes, they do it for money.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rex-Shea/1126171168 Rex Shea

    This is an excellent point. After this election cycle, this is where we need to really press our efforts. We need to become a huge portion of the next Democratic platform. We do, after all, represent the base of the Democratic party, IF we can get them to return to their roots, that is. 

  • Voyagersail

    The reason they don’t pander to the approx 20% who are not religious is because the 80% who are religious would throw a hissy fit! 

  • Randy

    One reason is that the Democrats are not a moderate or liberal party.  They are the conservatives who seek the moderate vote, instead of discarding it like Republicans.

    A second reason is that the unaffiliated are … unaffiliated.  There’s no power there.  As we’ve seen from recent attempts to organize even the atheists (freeing Alexander Ann, Atheism+) we’re not at all good at it.  We’re very good at yelling at people (regardless of belief).  That’s about it.

    Unless this set of issues is the one factor you vote on, and you do it publicly and collectively, nobody is going to pay any attention.

  • Thomas Farrell

    > Why Aren’t the Democrats Reaching Out to Secular Americans?
     
    > the religiously “Unaffiliated” overwhelmingly support President Obama

    You answered your own question. Why spend time and money convincing the people who already support you to support you, when you know the contest will be decided by the fence-sitters?

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    “…we may not vote Republican, but we may end up …voting for a third party candidate….”

    You make that sound like a bad thing.

    • CelticWhisper

      Sure hope it’s not a bad thing.  ‘s what I intend to do.

  • Philovaihinger

    The Dems don’t have to court our votes. Since the GOP has had to sell its soul to the clergy the Dems just have to defend and occasionally advance the sexual revolution and keep prayer and creationism out of the schools to look quite sane in contrast.

  • Philovaihinger

    Mph. I would be equally uncomfortable with a Muslim or an Evangelical, though for somewhat different reasons. On the other hand, any strong secularist would do, regardless of affiliation.

  • jose

    Hmmm, republicans made sure they couldn’t vote this time?

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Re: “The GOP isn’t interested in our votes, so the Democrats would be doing themselves a favor by talking to us, courting us, and taking our issues seriously.”

    No, Democrats would certainly not “be doing themselves a flavor by talking to” secularists. For the most part, they already have secularists’ votes. Doing anything that shows they’re paying attention to secularists will only touch off a raging furor over how they’re going to abolish religion, yada yada yada. Democrats have been trying to court religious folks, who tend to be very touchy where secularism and secularists are concerned. They’d much rather risk losing a few secularists’ votes, than risk losing those of believers (since there are far more of the latter in this country than the former).

    What’s more, if they did, it would become fodder for the Right-wing echo chamber, and Democrats would have to spend several days after being questioned about why they want to turn the country over to god-hating atheists (even if they don’t) and trying to reassure the country that religion isn’t going to be abolished if they’re elected.

    It’s all about Democrats playing down to the inherent insecurity and childishness of the country’s believers, who are in the majority and therefore matter to them more than secularists do. It’s that simple. To expect anything else is foolish.

  • Amakudari

    Why aren’t they courting “secular Americans”? Maybe because enough of them vote on principles like this:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/09/08/what-political-party-best-represents-atheists/

    The Democrats are obviously better than the Republicans on our issues and they need our support even if they only throw us a bone every once in a while. … I’m still voting for President Obama and I think you’re wasting your vote if you go for a third party.

    Why court people who have bought into the idea that they should definitely always vote for the lesser of two very specific evils?

    • Philo Vaihinger

      If you’re going to vote at all why turn it into a gesture nobody will even notice by voting for some minor party? The Dem or the GOPster will get to the White House. Nobody else. Which would you rather?

      Granted, a single vote is meaningless, anyway, and you always leave the polling place knowing you might as well have stayed home.

      But if that’s your excuse for voting for some utter irrelevancy why show up at all?

      • Amakudari

        Late responding, but I think the reasoning is quite obvious. Yes, it’s true that no third-party candidate will win anytime soon. I understand that, but what I disagree with is the idea that wasting your vote is synonymous with not voting for a Republican or Democrat.

        There is only one voting pattern that makes someone meaningless in politics: consistency. If I always vote Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Green or just stay home, there is no reason a politician should ever attempt to court my vote or the vote of those like me. This is why the majority of Americans support marijuana legalization yet liberal states (like California) fail to approve it, and why only a minority of Americans oppose marriage equality yet even liberal states (like California) will outlaw it; certain folks will vote when their issue comes up and won’t vote otherwise. (Sorry, I just lived in Cali through Props 8 and 19.) That’s why the wars are deeply unpopular yet ever-continuing, and it’s why Republicans try their best to get gay marriage on the ballots in swing states.

        If atheists—or better, people who value the freedom of conscience attending religious freedom—want to exercise influence in politics, it won’t be because we begrudgingly pull the lever for Democrats no matter how exclusionary their religious rhetoric is. Sure, organizing people around non-belief is like herding cats, but the fact is that politics is a long game.

  • Collin

    The thing that shocked and scared me about this story was the second chart.  Up til now every statistic about my generation has been encouraging: increased openness, highest acceptance of LGBT people and issues, least racist, least sexist, and most atheists by percentage.

    Then I see that 64% would be uncomfortable with a Muslim president, and I realize that a very horrible type of prejudice has made it through whatever barrier has set us apart.

    • Philo Vaihinger

      If you know that he’s a Muslim secularist that’s one thing. But if all you know is that he’s a Muslim the odds are overwhelming he’s far from that. Way too far.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Mostly off topic, but I was interested to find that the religious category that has the highest party affiliation is Jews voting Democrat.  It’s something like 78%.  So much for all this crap from the GOP about the Dems not supporting Israel.

  • Anon

     Well, as unfortunate as it is that people are still comfortable about voting for an insane jewish offshoot worshiping a bloodthirsty genocidal god…. at least they are moving in the correct direction with the other insane jewish offshoot worshiping a bloodthirsty genocidal god.

    Science, upon silver wings to the moon. Religion, upon silver wings into towers.


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