Nones (and Allies) Running for Office

Tomorrow is Election Day. Hopefully, most of you will be voting or (like in my case) already voted. But many people will have the chance of voting for openly secular candidates or for religious people who support and embrace the nonreligious as allies. In this post, I conduct a short analysis of the candidate endorsed by the Freethought Equality Fund, a secular political action committee (PAC) that endorses secular candidates for office. This post is the last in my pre-election series on nonreligious political involvement (Part I, Part II).

I wrote a code in R to scrape and download the biographical text of the candidates who are (1) endorsed and (2) running in the General Election tomorrow. I removed any candidates who were endorsed earlier in the year but who lost a primary. Below, you can see a series of charts summarizing some of the characteristics of these candidates. You can scroll through the charts using the dots above them.

Offices

Overall, the PAC is endorsing 219 candidates running from offices ranging from school boards to the U.S. Senate. The first chart shows that nearly three-quarters (74 percent) are running for a seat in a state house while 16 percent are running for a seat in a state senate (or in the case of Nebraska, a unicameral legislature). In other words, nine-in-ten of the candidates endorsed are running for a state legislative office.

This number of candidates is an encouraging sign. The first class of endorsements in 2014 had only four state legislative candidates. The current number is 197, and even if all of them don’t win their races, those are the makings of a pipeline of secular and secular-friendly candidates with experience.

Eight percent of the candidates are running for the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, and the final two percent are local candidates, most running for school board seats.

(Non)Religious Identification

The Freethought Equality Fund is a secular PAC, though not all the candidates are. In the second chart, I classify the religious identification of the candidates in four distinct categories. The “Secular ID” label means that the candidates identify as secular, or humanist, or atheist, or agnostic. A few of the candidates in this group also have dual religious/secular identities (such as secular Jews). A second nonreligious group, the “Not Religious” consists of those who call themselves nones or not religious but do not have a specific secular identity. The third group is the “Religious Ally” and consists of candidates who sought the FEF endorsement but who are not secular themselves. Finally, there’s a small but not insignificant group of candidates who refused to provide any religious identification.

A plurality of the candidates are religious allies. Thirty-five percent of the endorsed candidates identify primarily as religious. However, a majority of the candidates (58 percent) are openly nonreligious: 34 percent (similar to the number of religious allies) identify as secular, while just under one-quarter (24 percent) are nones. An additional seven percent did not identify as nither religious ally nor nonreligious.

Incumbency

The last chart shows that most of the candidates running for office are challengers or pursuing open seats. But one-fifth of them are incumbents seeking reelection. A plurality of those seeking reelection are religious allies. Overall, 25 percent of them (19 of 77) are seeking an additional term in office. But a similar proportion of the candidates with secular IDs are also current elected officials (15 of 75).

Where Are they Running?

Finally, here’s a map of the United States showing where the candidates are running and how many candidates are in each state by type of office. Just mouse over the state and the information will appear.

To see the candidates and wether one of them is in your ballot, visit the Freethought Equality Fund website. Also, remember…if you haven’t vote yet: VOTE!

Nones (and Allies) Running for Office
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Mike Pence: Lying for Jesus?

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was a commencement speaker at Hillsdale College, a right-wing small college in Michigan. His remarks, summarized in a series of tweets, included this obviously false statement:


If you have not been living under a rock for the past decade or so, you know that religious affiliation in the United States has declined significantly. In fact, even the most “devout” religious group among Americans, the white evangelical cohort, has seen its ranks depleted as young people leave in droves its politicized faith.

While we all know he’s lying, there are some charitable interpretations of this lie. A piece in the Washington Post’s Fact Checker traces Pence’s remarks to a piece in The Federalist that cites some legit research by sociologist Roger Finke and by sociologists Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock. The Post article suggests that Pence is misinterpreting the results of a study by Schnabel and Bock that finds that strong affiliation with religion has been constant in the United States, even as nonreligion increased.

I don’t think Pence was interested in statistics and nuanced analysis of religious trends when his speechwriter(s) drafted the speech. Given the audience, graduates of a high-profile right-wing college (alma mater of luminaries such as Club for Growth president Chris Chocola and mercenary extraordinaire Erik Prince), Pence was talking about power. An earlier tweet in that thread hints about power as the theme of the address.


The current President of the United States has done everything in his power to please his white evangelical base. From nominating right-wing ideologues to the courts to attacking or reversing policies enacted by his predecessor on cultural matters such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, and women’s rights. Reduced immigration, the return to the sexual mores of the 18th century, and many more retrograde policies have been the longtime goals of the Christian Right. This is why white evangelicals are the President’s strongest supporters. So when Pence says that faith is strong, and is rising, he means that the views of those in power are aligned with those in the Hillsdale commencement audience. POTUS is making good on his promise to “make America great again” for a segment of the population that thinks that American greatness is its power to oppress.
 

Mike Pence: Lying for Jesus?

Taking the Joy out of my Favorite Sport

I grew up in the Caribbean and it is not surprising that I love baseball. But even though I live close to two Major League Baseball franchises, I rarely attend games. An oped by Howard Bryant in the New York Times sums up my feelings about baseball these days. And it all goes back to the fateful day of September 11, 2001. Slowly, starting with the Yankees, teams replaced the seventh-inning stretch’s silly rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the jingoistic “God Bless America.” Eventually, the mix of imperial politics and sports  worsened. Here’s Bryant describing the transformation:

It all felt right, until temporary grieving turned into a permanent, commercial bonanza — and a chilling referendum on who gets to be American. But then it didn’t feel right, like when in 2008, a New York police officer ejected a fan at a Red Sox-Yankees game after he left his seat during a seventh-inning-stretch recording of “God Bless America.” Recently a high-ranking Red Sox official told me — nearly 17 years after the towers fell — that he really doesn’t know why the team still plays “God Bless America,” but he knows this: The team would “get killed” publicly if it was the first team to stop doing it.

As an atheist, I don’t apppreciate the overtly religious tones of the song that essentially tells me that I don’t belong. I’m constantly reminded that I do not belong. The seventh-inning should be for stretching, not for cramping your arm in faux-patriotism celebrating the military-industrial complex. Alhough this blog is supposed to go beyond church and state matters, sometimes I wonder if there’s a church/state separation case to be made with Go Bless America in stadiums. The teams are private enterprises with stadiums that, for most of them, are heavily taxpayer subsidized and, in many cases, single-use facilities. So, who knows? Maybe there’s an enterprising case to be had.

 

Taking the Joy out of my Favorite Sport

Good primer on ideology among POC

Gene Demby has an informative piece using Kanye West’s right-turn as a starting point to explore ideology among Black Americans. He explains, with the help of some scholars, why black conservatives, who comprise a substantial segment of the African-American population, don’t tend to be Republicans. Part of the explanation is linked fate, defined in the article as “the belief among black folks that their individual prospects are tied to a collective well-being.” The concept, championed by political scientist Michael Dawson has been instrumental in the study of race and politics, especially electoral behavior and why groups vote as blocs, even when there are significant ideological cleavages.

Ismail White of George Washington University argues that linked fate is not the only mechanism explaining the homogeneity of the African American vote. There is also a peer pressure factor enforcing these voting patterns. From the article:

What White and and three other researchers found in a recent study is that social pressure from other black people is how this Democratic norm gets policed. They found that the expectations around this norm were so powerful that simply having a black questioner ask a black respondent about their voting preferences made that respondent more likely to say they were voting for a Democratic candidate.

Chryl Laird, one of the study’s authors, said this is how everyone votes. We like to think of our voting choices as purely rational, but we take cues from the people around us, especially when we don’t know much about a candidate or an issue. Laird said social influence and pressure partly explain why most white evangelical voters in Alabama supported Senate candidate Roy Moore last fall, even after he was accused of sexual misconduct involving minors.

My dissertation on Latinx politics explores why Latinx people overwhelmingly support one party even when there’s ideological diversity in the group.  My conceptualization of ideology is entirely different since I avoid traditional”liberal-conservative” labels. Instead, I opt for a definition rooted in linked fate and identity that I call the “ethnic ideological heuristic.”  My findings suggest that even among Latinx people who are traditionally conservative (in the way we understand conservatism in contemporary politics), the explicit racism of the GOP has been a deterrent. Latinx people don’t wholly trust the Democrats anyway and tend to have lower levels of partisan attachment as a result.

In summary, among African Americans and Latinxs, even when people have conservative ideas, these do not necessarily translate to support for the GOP for myriad reasons. But the principal one is that the white identity politics at the core of GOP conservatism is toxic even to people of color who agree with similar ideas.

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A Major Crack in the Wall of Separation

Sean McElwee published an op-ed in the Huffington Post hitting on some points that I have thought for a long time. Namely, that Democrats are naive about the Supreme Court while conservatives and Republicans are quite aware of the power of the institution.

…[R]epublicans are far more mobilized on the court than Democrats, something true among both the general public and activist elites. Despite his rank incompetence in every branch of government, Trump has managed to create an efficient pipeline of far-right judges to the federal bench, filing it four times faster than Obama through his first year. However, even as the court has become a reactionary institution, my analysis of Cooperative Congressional Election Studies reveals a disturbing pattern: Democrats mostly have positive views of the court and see it as a centrist institution rather than one that explicitly seeks to advance the Republican agenda.

I understand that church/state separation is sort of a foundational issue for secular Americans. I think that the views of many on the issue are quite naive, along the lines Sean explains in his article. Talking to fellow secular people, I get this feeling that they have a quasi-religious trust in the Constitution and that matters of Separation are settled. That the Enlightenment ideas in which the Constitution is rooted are well understood and that religious conservatives are the ones attempting to undermine this tradition.

One of my concerns with church/state issues is that President Obama left an inordinate amount of court vacancies unfilled that President Trump is filling at a rapid pace. These are not people friendly to our issues, whether they are the wall of separation or any progressivish policy position. With an additional SCOTUS vacancy, we’re closer to a theocracy that we’ve been in a while.

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The Power Elite (Gossip Version)

One of the books I read in graduate school that has now become my go-to guide to understand what’s going on in American society is The Power Elite by sociologist C. Wright Mills.

Written in 1956, when conservatism was at one of its lowest points in the country’s history, The Power Elite stands out because it argues against the pluralistic thinking that was dominant at the time. Much of the political and social science of the era was very triumphant about American institutions and the ability of the common man to influence the nation’s politics. The country’s intelligentsia wasn’t the only ones with an overwhelming optimism in the country’s government.

A trend compiled by the Pew Research Center finds that in 1958 more than nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans trusted the government in Washington to do what is right always or most of the time. This number includes 7-in-10 Democrats and Independents, and nearly 8-in-10 (79 percent) Republicans(!!!). It was also a time when income inequality was declining, in large part thanks to a postwar boom, a stronger labor movement, and government investment.

Mills is skeptical of the “kumbaya” narrative of power and money in the United States and says that there is a “power elite.” Not a conspiracy, but certain interlocking dominant classes in politics, business, the military, and arts, that reinforce themselves. THis power elite is not bound by ideology, but by a need to keep themselves at the top of American society. More than 60 years later, as the upper classes continue to horde opportunity and wealth, he looks like a visionary.

Frank Rich, writing in New York Magazine, lays out how the New York society, its “liberal” and mostly Democratic establishment abated the rise of Donald Trump by telling to story of Roy Cohn. Cohn was Trump’s mentor and better known for being the henchman of infamous U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.). The whole article reads like a gossipy version of The Power Elite, but nonetheless is a good window into how the powerful help themselves.
 

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/04/frank-rich-roy-cohn-the-original-donald-trump.html

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FF: The Religious Roots of New England’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage

Flashback Friday (FF) is a category of posts previously published elsewhere that still have some contemporary relevance. This FF post was originally published on April 25, 2013 in the PRRI blog.

Yesterday, the Rhode Island State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now returns to the State House of Representatives, which already voted in favor of a similar bill. Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican U.S. Senator, is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his office.

If and when Rhode Island finally codifies same-sex marriage into law, it will make New England the first region in the country where all states have legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples. According to PRRI’s recent survey, a slim majority of American (52%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. However, in New England, support increases to 7-in-10 (70%) residents. This high level of support may be related to the concentration of the religious groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage in the region.

New England has a low percentage of groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Only 7% of New Englanders identify as white evangelical Protestants, compared to nearly 1-in-5 (18%) Americans overall. Only 24% of white evangelicals favor same-sex marriage (71% are opposed). Black Protestants, who also oppose same-sex marriage (37% favor, 57% oppose), are also underrepresented in New England compared to the national population (3% vs. 8%). Instead, Catholics (30%), mainline Protestants (22%), and Jews (6%) are overrepresented among New Englanders, and majorities of these groups favor same-sex marriage (57%, 55%, and 81%, respectively). In addition, 1-in-5 (21%) New England residents are religiously unaffiliated, a figure that’s similar to the rest of the country. More than three-quarters (76%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts was the first New England state to approve same-sex marriage in 2004. It was later joined by Connecticut (2008), Vermont (2009), New Hampshire (2010), and Maine, which is one of the three states that extended marriage rights for same-sex couples through referendum last November.

FF: The Religious Roots of New England’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage

More on the White Evangelical-to-Religious None Pipeline

On my post “The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis” I wrote:

I guess they [younger people] are leaving [evangelical churches] more because of politics than theology, while the older folk are leaving due to theology. Why do I think this? Because the political differences between white evangelicals and former white evangelicals are wider among people who left religion than people who switched congregations.

A new research paper by Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger shows that in states with anti-gay rights policies, the nones increased more rapidly. Abstract below

Hout and Fischer have made the repeated, controversial claim that the dramatic rise of “religious nones” in the United States is due to the prominence of the politics of the Christian Right. As the argument goes, the movement’s extreme stands on gay rights and abortion make religion inhospitable to those who take more moderate and liberal positions. We take another look at this proposition with novel data drawing on expert reports and interest group counts that capture the prominence of the movement in each American state from 2000 to 2010. We attach these data to decennial religious census data on the unchurched, as well as estimates of the nones from Cooperative Congressional Election Study data. At stake is whether religion is independent of political influence and whether American religion is sowing its own fate by failing to limit taking extreme stands. Rising none rates are more common in Republican states in this period. Moreover, when the Christian Right comes into more public conflict, such as over same-sex marriage bans, the rate of religious nones climbs.

This paper is very useful for understanding how politics affects religious identification. Alas, it doesn’t answer (and it wasn’t its goal to do so) the larger question about the religious beliefs of people who move toward no-identification. I think people, particularly young people, who become nonreligious and come from a conservative Christian background leave religion because of doubts about the veracity of religious beliefs than political matters. Otherwise they would join or start to identify with a more liberal Christian tradition.

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Don’t Forget the Conservative Media Ecosystem

Jeet Heer writes that the Republican Party, not Donald Trump, is the real threat to American democracy. He argues that Trump is a symptom of a larger problem within the GOP. As he puts it:

But one institution has sorely failed in its constitutional duty to restrain the president. Time and again, the Republican-controlled Congress has ignored, defended, or outright enabled Trump’s authoritarian excesses.

I don’t think he’s wrong in this analysis but I think focusing solely on the GOP electeds’ indifference toward Trump’s authoritarian impulses minimizes the role conservative media plays in shaping the Party’s agenda. Heer mentions that the conservative media has “a profound influence” on the Party, but I think that’s an understatement.

Conservative media leaves in a conspiracy bubble. Its success depends on profits and those profits depend on viewers, listeners, and readers coming back. Reality is warped to the extent that even when the Republican Party controls the White House, both branches of Congress, and a majority of state governments, they still act as if they a persecuted minority. This warped reality has reached now ridiculous heights. Institutions conservatives normally love like the FBI and the CIA are under attack as part of a “deep state” conspiracy.

Trump is not just the de facto leader of the GOP; he’s also an avid consumer of conservative media. He is the poster boy of conservative news consumers: a white, male Boomer with too much time in his hands. Many of the members of his administration come from that media ecosystem. Understanding the current GOP means understanding how Fox News, Breitbart, and the like have monetized outrage to the extent that an organization at the peak of its political power believes it is the underdog.

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