How the Nones Vote

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about how the nones vote in Presidential Elections. Generally, the nones are more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate than for the Republican candidate. In all elections since 1984, a majority of the nones have favored the Democratic candidate (a plurality narrowly voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980 over Ronald Reagan in a year where Independent John Anderson received 16 percent of the nones’ vote).

In 2016, the pattern continued with a majority of nones voting for Hillary Clinton. According to the New York Times analysis of Exit Polls, nones’ support for the Democrats peaked in 2008 when 75 percent voted for Barack Obama. Nones’ support for Democrats has been greater than 67 percent in the Exit Polls this century.

Last week I estimated voter turnout among the nones using the CCES. This week, I use the same data to understand the nones’ voting patterns in 2016. The data in the 3rd tab show that the nones supported the Democratic Clinton over the Republican Trump by a two-to-one margin (62 percent vs. 30 percent). While this is lower than the Exit Polls total, it is still in line with what we know about the nones. And because the CCES has a better measure of non-religion than the Exit Polls, I prefer the CCES’s validated vote number over the Exit Poll.

Comparing the nones to other religious groups (Tab IV) show that they were the most likely to vote for Clinton, along with non-Christian religious people such as Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims. Born-again Protestants were the opposite of the nones, preferring Trump over Clinton by a similar two-to-one margin. Considering that the nones and the evangelical Protestants have constituencies of similar sizes, this means that these groups essentially balance each other.

Tab V shows that the nones accounted for nearly 4-in-10 Clinton voters (37 percent). Born-again Protestants accounted for roughly one-in-three Trump voters (34 percent). The nones just accounted for one-fifth of the Trump vote.

One pattern that remains, the nones were also the largest group supporting third party candidates. Like 1992, 1996, and 2000, the nones have been a major source of votes for candidates like Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and in the case of 2016, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

How the Nones Vote
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The Nones and Voter Turnout

The 2018 Midterm Elections are just two weeks away, but in some states early voting already started. If my social media feeds are any indication, nonreligious people are very motivated to vote this year. However, considering that people in my feeds are very engaged politically to begin with, they may not be the best indicator of political participation among the nones.

Common wisdom suggests that the nones are a population that punches well below their weight when it comes to voting. An oft-quoted figure comes from a 2016 PRRI report comparing the religious makeup of the electorate in Exit Polls and the religious makeup of the population.

Source: PRRI

In 2016, the nones accounted for 15 percent of voters in the National Exit Polls, while they represented one-quarter of the adult population. If we were to translate that into actual numbers (with the help of the United States Elections Project (USEP)), turnout was a dismal 34 percent. According to the USEP, there were about 250 adults in the United States in 2016. Twebty-five percent represent 62.5 million nones in the adult population. The USEP says that about 139 million people cast a vote in 2016. If 15 percent of those voters are nones that means some 21 million. Compared to the 54.7 percent overall turnout estiamted by the USEP, that’s awfully low.

That’s bad, though we shouldn’t use Exit Polls to estimate turnout. As the folks as Latino Decisions have argued for year, the Exit Polls are not a very trustworthy way of analyzing the electorate, especially when it comes to Latinxs. The Poll does give some useful information….but it has many issues. In our case is that (a) we don’t know how representative is the overall sample of none voters in the Exit Polls, and (b) the Exit Polls may be undercounting nones for a couple of reasons. (for more on Exit Poll methodology, read this entry from the Pew Research Center).

First, it only asks people if they have no religion: “none” is a response option (I don’t know if they have changed the way the ask the question recently, but working with some older one, that’s the way it was asked…if someone can find a link to the actual questionnaire and send it my way, I’d love that since I can’t find it online). Asking just for “nones” may leave some people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic. Second, people may be less willing to admit in a face-to-face survey that they have no religion.

Fortunately, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) exists. The survey included a sample of about 65,000 adults and about 50,000 answered a post-election follow up. In the charts below I compare the nones (a combination of atheist, agnostic, and nothing in particular) with other religious groups. Born-again Protestants are those who identify as Protestant and evangelical, while Mainline Protestants are those who don’t identify as Born-again. Other Christians include Mormons and Orthdox, Non-Christian are those who are religious but are not Christian or nones.

The 2016 CCES validates voters with the Catalyst database and gives some idea of how groups voted.  In this definition of turnout I count those whose votes are validated as “voters” and those who are not validated as “nonvoters.”

Using this calculation, the nones punch below their weight, but not as bad as the Exit Poll/PRRI poll comparison suggests. They represent about 31 percent of the adult sample and 28 percent of voters. This suggests, as the second tab below shows, that about half of nones voted, compared to 54 percent of the public. They are still far below the turnout of most Christian groups, but not dramatically off from the general population numbers.

Nones probably have a turnout problem. But it may not be as bad as the Exit Poll analysis suggests. We should also take into account that nones are younger than any other religious group, so that’s probably something to be aware of. Young people (under 30)  have the lowest turnout of any age cohort. Hopefully campaigns like #Atheistvoter and #SecularVoter can help boost some of these numbers.

The Nones and Voter Turnout

Latinx Nones: Tomorrow

This post closes our three-part series on Latinx nones. According to Pew nearly one-third of Latinxs under the age of 30 (in 2014) identified as nones. Only 36 percent said they were Catholic and about one-in-four were Protestant. In fact, Latinxs under 30 are almost three times more likely to identify as nones compared to Latinxs over 50 (32 percent vs. 12 percent).

If we look at the age distribution of religious groups among Latinxs, we see how young Latinx nones are. While all religious groups have similar proportions of people between 30 and 49 years of age, the nones are by far the youngest: 43 percent under age 30. Only one-in-five Catholic Latinxs are under 30.

Latinx Nones: Tomorrow

Latinx Nones: Yesterday

Last week I showed that 1-in-5 Latinxs are nones, representing roughly 8 million Latinx adults in the United States. Today, in the second post of this three-part series, I show where Latinx nones come from. The vast majority of Latinx nones reported in the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey that they were raised Catholic when they were children. When adding up all the Christian groups, about 8-in-10 Latinxswho identify as nones were raised in a Christian tradition.

Click here to see the whole series.

Latinx Nones: Yesterday

Latinx Nones: Today

We’re in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month. This is a good time to remember that there are a lot of Latinx nones in the United States. One-in-five, to be precise, according to PRRI. Just less than a decade ago, my former colleagues at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (PRRI) found that 12 percent of Latinxs were nones.  In just nine years, the nones have increased 67 percent in the Latinx population and roughly doubled from about four million, to more than eight million people. Below is a short infographic.

Next week, I’ll be writing about the past of Latinx nones. Where do the come from?

Click here for full series

Latinx Nones: Today

FTA: The March of the Nones Continue

From the Archives (FTA) is a category of posts previously published at The LatiNone that still have some contemporary relevance. This FTA post was originally published on September 7, 2017.

PRRI released yesterday a new ginormous poll of religious identification in the United States. At 101,000-ish cases the largest this century and its scope is so large that it is really unprecedented. Of course, I am interested in what it says about the religious nones. And I may say, many things are good news.

Take, for example, this pretty line chart tracing the growth of the nones back 40 years. Up to the 1990s, roughly 1-in-10 Americans were non religious. Then, by the 2000s the population started growing and was famously captured and highlighted by the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey nearly a decade ago. Back then people considered that 15 percent of Americans being non religious was a pretty big deal. In the crazy days following the release of the 2008 ARIS those of us in that team did a lot of media. My friend Ryan Cragun did an interview (I can’t recall where) predicting that the nones soon will be 25 percent of the country. I thought that was optimistic, time has proved me wrong.

Today, about one-quarter of Americans are religious nones. What does that mean for the country and its future? I don’t really know, but I will explore several questions regarding the growth of the nones in the next few posts using the PRRI report. I will explore the demographics of the nones, the politics of the nones, and likely engage with some of the pieces that have been, are being, and will be written about this report.

FTA: The March of the Nones Continue

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.

Aside