Vice News recently came out with an article detailing the rise in the “nones”, or the religiously unaffiliated, and how it will play in next years’ Presidential race. More specifically, how that group will be influenced by a contenders identity with their religion.
Among the points that were made, pulling from the recent Pew Research Poll, was that those who are of voting age that identify as having no religious link (either by using the title, atheist, agnostic, unsure, or no preference) match the number of Evangelical Christians. Though the poll actually states they are close, but 25% are Evangelicals, 23% are “nones”. Catholics make up 21% and “non-Christian” make up 6%.
In spite of all this, among the group that makes up the “millennial” demographic, approximately 80 million of the U.S. population, 70% do not want religion being considered when policy is being decided. However, among the “nones”, 30% want a candidate that has a deep-held religious belief. It should be noted that, among those that label themselves as “unaffiliated”, only 13% are atheist and 17% as agnostic, and there is no distinction who, among any of the groups in the unaffiliated category, would have espoused such opinions.
When Diane Winston, the author of the Vice article, starts speaking about the actual candidates, she omits several important figures being considered for candidacy. Sure, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum are all easy figures to call out and have the audience know their religious convictions, as they have a hard time separating their church from the states they run. Yet, when Winston gets to the Democratic pool, she only mentions Hillary Clinton.
While I do not deny it is important to talk about Clinton’s religious conviction, and especially how she pulls out easy to quote biblical passages when it’s convenient, there are more people than Clinton running for the Democratic nomination.
What about Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland? He identifies as a Roman Catholic, but, as was seen when considering the legalization of same-sex marriage when he challenged the archbishop who wrote to him, he appears secular when it comes to policy making. He also is against capital punishment, but appears wishy-washy on immigration.There is also Jim Webb, the former U.S. senator from Virginia, who also was the Assistant Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy. Upon his induction into the U.S. Senate, he filed a bill to provide education assistance to veterans of the post-9/11 war, and implemented the Criminal Justice Commission Act in 2009 in order to help reduce the rate of incarceration in the U.S. He is a Christian, but what does it matter if he is working towards the betterment of the people that were sent to war or are becoming victims of an unbalanced justice system, even to the extent of being the only institutions that provide mental health care?
Last, but most importantly, what about Bernie Sanders? Sanders’ religious affiliation, while specifically being a secular Jew, holds little relevance to how he carries himself in his political career. His position on various issues show a massive support of the lower and middle classes; inclusive of a single-payer health care system, free college tuition, refinancing student loan debt for those already in over their heads, and is in opposition to the Iraq war. And while Sanders does have some work to catch up to Hillary, he still is closer than both O’Malley and Webb in the polls.
Winston did make an important point in her article; despite religious conviction, those unaffiliated or not concerned with a religious preference will look to those who are more invested, and concerned, with financial, educational, and equality issues. While we could look at the progressive ideas and movement of particular Democratic candidates, we really only need to look at some of the issues that are of concern to the questionable group of candidates running for the Republican seat.
Consider this; do we want a candidate that thinks Obama is causing harm to our country by using big words”(Jeb Bush)? Or doesn’t “believe” in evolution (Ben Carlson)? Maybe we want a candidate, whose state already has medicinal marijuana, but thinks recreational weed is a gateway drug and taxing it would bring in “blood money” like Chris Christie. Ted Cruz thinks that wanting regulations on gun sales makes someone unqualified to be the Surgeon General, or you could vote for someone that is against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women act and is viewed as having an anti-civil rights and affirmative actions position by the NAACP and ACLU, like Lindsey Graham.
Maybe Winston is right; maybe we need to focus less on whether a candidate believes in a god or not, and more on their political positions.