Undercounting Secularism in Congress

As it has become customary at the beginning of a new Congress, the Pew Research Center released its Faith on the Hill report.  Our elected officials at the national level have been slow to catch up to the country’s secularizing trend. The report shows only one “religiously unaffiliated” elected official, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema. While New York’s Ed Kilgore is too optimistic about the religious diverity in Congress, it represent a major step forward. In the U.S. Senate, that bastion of American conservatism, there is a “none.”

But the CQ Roll Call survey of members of Congress that informs Pew’s report undercounts the secularity of its respondents. In the case of California Rep. Jared Huffman, he’s been added to the “don’t know/refused” category. Though Pew acknowledges in the text that Huffman “identifies as a humanist.”

Then there are two cases that show even more complexity. One is a current member of the House, another is a former member. Current Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) identifies as Jewish in the survey, but he also identifies as a humanist according to the Center for Freethought Equality. There’s also the case of former Rep. Pete Stark (D-California). Pew included some trends to show how faith on the Hill has changed over time. A few of those periods include the tenure of Stark who served for 40 years. Stark identified as a Unitarian during his whole career but he acknowledged late in his tenure that he was an atheist, something that is not uncommon among Unitarians. The Pew Landscape Survey of 2014 finds that nearly 1-in-5 Unitarians (and people belonging to other liberal faiths) do not beleive in God. Stark’s atheism is mentioned in a footnote in the report, but still means that people with nontheistic backgrounds are undercounted among elected officials by surveys that conflate religion with belief in the supernatural. These surveys measure belonging to a community, not necessarily what the people believe. The current way of reporting religion in Congress makes secular people even more invisible than they are in the national legislative body.

 

Undercounting Secularism in Congress
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All the Candidates Endorsed by the Freethought Equality Fund in Two Maps

It’s been two weeks since Election Day. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that 47 openly nontheist or humanist candidates were elected into office this year. In this post I show where they are, their religious identification, and how all the candidates that were endorsed in this cycle fared.

The maps are the continuation of my project scraping the bios of candidates in the Freethought Equality Fund website. I previously ran some preliminary analysis just with the candidates running in the General Election.

Each dot in the maps represents one candidate. WordPress doesn’t allow me to embed the maps well. Click on the map picture and you will be able to scroll through the dots.  They have the following information:

  1. Name
  2. Office the candidate was seeking
  3. State
  4. Election outcome
  5. Secular Identity

The dots are both colored: Green represents local offices, orange representstate legislative offices, and purple represents federal legislative offices. The darker the shade, the higher the office, for exmaple, light orange is used for US House candidates and dark orange is used for US Senate candidates. The dots also vary in size, the smallest dot represents local (board of education) candidates, the largest dot represents US Senate candidates.

One last thing about secular identity. As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I simplified the identities of the candidates because many had very complex ones (see also Hemant’s post about the candidates before Election Day) .My broad categories are:

  1. Secular/Humanist: Secular or humanist (or secular humanist)
  2. Non believer: includes atheist, agnostic, non-theist, non-believer
  3. Not religious: Includes nones, not religious, not practicing a religion, spiritual but not religious
  4. Did not state: Person did not specify if thy had a religious preference
  5. Religious ally: A person who identifies with a religion

Those who identify with both a religion and a secular identity are classified as secular.

Map 1: All Candidates

Map 2: Winning Candidates Only

Let me know what you think of the maps in the comments. I will be releasing more analysis as I continue cleaning the data.

All the Candidates Endorsed by the Freethought Equality Fund in Two Maps

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

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.

Aside

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.

Aside

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

Aside

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