Yes, this is a long article… but it has good research and is worth your time to read. Sorry, no TLDR – just read it!
The United States of America is hardly united. On virtually every political issue, America will cover the entire sliding scale of opinion from extreme conservative, evangelical Christian right to the extreme liberal, progressive, socialist left. We also have a large chunk of the population that just does not care. These people do not pay attention to the issues, regardless if it directly affects their lives, especially in their local or national elections. In fact, if someone in a conversation doesn’t mention these political issues with him or her, they probably wouldn’t know anything about it. For the purposes of this article, we don’t discuss these people. I will look at the political views of active atheists and non-religious people in America and show that there is a preponderance to be towards the left (Democratic) side of the political spectrum and why this alignment occurs. It will also become clear that the more religiously motivated a political position, the more united and fervent the atheists in America are in opposition to it.
First of all, this alignment won’t occur for all issues or for all atheists. When I say “most”, we will assume that means more then 50% of the non-religious. Some issues will be more polarizing than others and some will be more uniting and homogenous in its secular support. Atheists go by many names and some despise labels entirely. For the purpose of cohesion, I will use the terms atheist and non-religious interchangeably, although many non-religious would not call themselves atheists. The Non-religious does not attend any churches and many do not believe in any definable god. They just don’t like the term “Atheist” which simply means someone holds “a disbelief in the existence of a deity” (Merriam-Webster Inc., 2012).
America isn’t the most secular nation on earth, not by far. But, it’s getting closer every year In March of 2012, Gallup released another poll on the religiosity of Americans as a whole and by individual state. They reported that 32% of Americans identify as non-religious. They were determined to be non-religious “based on their statement that religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services.” (Newport, Gallup Poll, March 2012)
According to Pew Forum on Religion and Political Life, their study of 35,000 Americans over the age of 18, shows “that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.” (PEW, 2007)
This number is a significant portion of the population, roughly 50 million American adults. That’s equivalent to the member size of the AARP (Association of Adult Retired Persons). If this group was an organized lobbying force, they could be the single largest lobby in Washington D.C.
“Like the other major groups, people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (16.1%) also exhibit remarkable internal diversity. Although one-quarter of this group consists of those who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively), the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” (PEW, 2007)
One of the most interesting voting blocks is the 18 – 29 age group. These college-aged adults are voting in record numbers (as the 2008 election showed us) and are forming atheist groups on campuses across the country like never before.
The Secular Student Alliance, the official college atheist organization for the United States has over 300 college groups around the country (and over 100 high school groups) (secularstudents.org). This rise, as noted in the chart above, is dramatic over the last 5 years. This young voting block is showing they care and becoming more politically active. As they leave religion, organized church groups are finding they are losing ground. According to ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey), “so many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes (Grossman, USA Today, 2009).
Atheists tend to be more Democratic than Republican. Part of this are the issues the two parties represent, as I’ll discuss at length later, and the fact that Republicans have a more favorable view of religions than Democrats. In other words, as the chart above shows, atheists are more welcome in the Democratic Party (Newport, Gallup Poll, 2006). Atheist may only have one thing in common, by definition (lack of belief in any gods) but we do find that Atheists group politically more homogenously than many other identifying labels. And, they mean business. The lobbying arm of the atheist movement is the Secular Coalition of America (SCA). They represent all non-religious Americans and fight for real and permanent separation of church and state. SCA recently hired prominent Republican lobbyist and strategist Edwina Rogers as the Executive Director for the organization. “The decision to select a Republican, specifically considering the stereotypes that lead individuals to assume that most atheist leaders are progressive in nature, is noteworthy.” (Hallowell, The Blaze, 2012). The SCA is trying to reach the Republicans in congress who have in the past ignored secular lobbying efforts. This new political insider was a direct and obvious attempt to change that. They often get attention and audience with Democratic leaders, but rarely with the political right. This change will allow Republicans to finally consider the issues that are important to Secular Americans. The issues the SCA lobby’s for are as follows:
End Religious Discrimination in the Military
Protect Foreign Women from U.S. Religious Extremist Policies in Foreign Aid
Eliminate Religiously-Based Laws Interfering with Contraception Access
Eliminate Health and Safety Standard Exemptions for Religious Child Care Centers
Protect Teen Students’ Rights to Form Atheist Clubs
End Marriage Discrimination and Oppose Theological Definitions of Marriage
Revoke Public Funding to the Boy Scouts Due to Religiously-Based Discrimination
Eliminate Religious Control of Sex Education in Public Schools
Remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance
End Public Funding of Religious Schools
Eliminate Taxpayer-Funded Housing for ‘Ministers of the Gospel’
Do not allow tax money to be used to mislead children for religious reasons
End Employment Discrimination by Religious Groups via ‘Faith-Based’ Initiatives
(Secular Coalition for America, Our Issues, 2011) It’s a lot to cover. Too much for this article, so I’ll limit my scope to what most atheist Democrats consider the big issues: Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, and Science. These topics have become so important to atheist in the past few years that, in 2011, the National Atheist Party (NAP) formed. NAP president, Troy Boyle explains the groups goals.
“Atheism and politics may seem at first glance to be uneasy partners at best. Nothing could be further from the truth. Atheism is a world-view that encompasses politics, because it is a world-view centered on evidence-based conclusions and the use of reason and rationality to solve problems. Throughout the history of this great nation, time and time again, reason and rationality have been abandoned for problem solving methods based on irrationality, fear and religio-centrism. The current popular rise of the “religious right” is a manifestation of this wholesale abandonment of hundreds of years of progress and scientific thought. Atheism embraces science, progress, and social ethics and this is reflected in the platform of the National Atheist Party.” (Boyle, National Atheist Party, 2011)
As we will see from their own internal polls, the more the religious right back a political stance, the more the National Atheist Party opposes it, “Our party is founded to oppose the religion-based and biased public policies of those who would like to see the U.S. government change from the secular government envisioned and enacted by the framers of the Constitution into a theocracy no different from the prevailing governments of the Middle East.” (Boyle, National Atheist Party, 2011) As evidence for this, we can look at three issues put before their members just a few months ago. The party polled their members on “In God We Trust” on our currency, The Fairness Doctrine, and Alternative Power (National Atheist Party Board Elections and Referendums 2012).
The results are as follows:
QUESTION #1 - Repeal “IN God We Trust” as the national motto and from use on currency and official documents?
This is an issue with major criticism from the evangelical Christian right. They spend lots of money and attention t on this issue, when it comes up in court (as well as the National Day of Prayer), so we fight against it. Atheists are 96% in agreement that this issue should be brought up and challenged in federal court.
QUESTION #2 - Make reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine a part of the National Atheist Party platform?
This issue has less religious nature to it. While Christians have pushed to allow their channels and news stations to not be held to this doctrine, it is less important to them, and therefore less important to atheists. This topic received 89% agreement from atheists. However, on the last topic of alternative energy…
QUESTION #3 – Should the NAP immediately ban the licensure for construction of new electric power plants powered by fossil fuels — coal, oil, or natural gas? Power companies must turn to nuclear power or alternative energy source.
Alternative energy is a big topic with a variety of opinions, but only 68% of atheists in this poll could agree that fossil fuels were a bad thing. However, this still goes to prove the point. These numbers are in line (but still higher) than Democrats as a whole and in stark contrast to Republicans, as the chart to the right shows. Religious people tend to feel they have ownership of the earth (as the bible states). “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1) This leads believers to do with it as they please.
Even if they do think that they are hurting the earth, 41% of them don’t see that as a problem because they believe that Jesus will return in their lifetime and take them to heaven… leaving the earth abandoned and no longer in need of stewardship (see chart). It should be starting to become apparent that issues that that are important to religious people are equally and proportionally important to non-religious people. The less religious a topic, the less atheists oppose it and the more divided they are in their opinion of it. The more religious a topic, the more atheists oppose it and the more homogenous their opinion of it. This becomes extremely clear with the following issues of women’s rights, gay rights, and science.
When I say “Women’s Rights”, I refer to reproductive rights. These involve votes to limit access to contraception and abortions for women in all 50 states. On March 29th, 2012, the American Secular Census released the results of their study on how atheists thought politically. They found that 97% of secular voters surveyed favor abortion rights (Secular Census, 2012). So, since there have been over 351 anti-abortion bills introduced since 2011 when Republicans took control of America’s House of Representative and many state congresses around the country (Steinmetz, Time, 2011) it’s no wonder that atheists line up on the other side of the aisle. They see no secular reason to oppose abortion and the Christian right hasn’t given them any. With only religious answers to questions of “why not”, atheists find it virtually impossible to support anti-abortion legislation.
As for gay rights and marriage equality, 96% support the Democratic policy of full equality (Secular Census, 2012). This is an easy one to support since, yet again, there is no secular justification to not let two people of the same sex marry or adopt. The only reasons given are religious ones straight from Christian morality and bible-based teachings.
Science is a big topic of interest for atheists that include things like teaching creationism in science classrooms, stopping life-saving stem cell research, and defunding science initiatives like N.A.S.A.
“Within both the secular and the scientific communities there is no controversy about the legitimacy of evolutionary theory in explaining the diversity of life. Secular Census respondents oppose the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public school science classes, but a non-trivial minority feel there is a place for these discussions as myth or literature.” (Secular Census 2012). According to the National Atheist Party, “argue that paying equal time to notions such as creationism corrodes understanding of the scientific process. This puts the US at a s scientific disadvantage internationally not to mention makes us a laughing stock around the globe.” (National Atheist Party, 2011)
Stem cell research has been slowed down due to its close ties to the anti-abortion lobby. This bothers atheists since it is often due to the lack of understanding of stem cell research that causes the right to oppose it. Stem cells have been shown to have amazing promise in treating and/or curing many of the diseases that afflict millions around the world. Atheists see stopping this for religious reasons to be unconstitutional and an abusive misuse of power. Democrats support stem cell research (see chart), so atheists support Democrats. (PEW, 2005)
If you review the topics discussed in this article and how atheist vote on the issue, you will see they are aligned with Democratic policies and politicians. This is why most atheists are Democrats. They are more accepted, have their opinions more obviously expressed by their elected officials, and face less bigotry by other members of the Democratic Party, even the religious ones. Yes, there are atheist Republicans. In most cases, they are going to be financially conservative but more liberal on social issues. Notice, the topics discussed here are largely social and not economic. On matters of economy, there are few aspects that are religious (other than church exemptions and tax breaks) so atheists aren’t united on one side of the issue. They don’t need to be. On those issues, god is rarely used one way or the other… except in issues of welfare – somehow the GOP doesn’t think Jesus would want the rich to help pay for the poor. Explaining that would take an entire other article!
As the research showed, atheism is the fastest growing “religious” section of society. As church pews empty, meet-up groups, secular student organizations, and atheist political activism agencies are growing in numbers. These 50,000,000+ Americans will demand that their voices be heard. Their issues will be hot-button topics in upcoming elections. The framers of the constitution wanted to ensure that all people, those of faith in deities and those without, were able to live together, freely in a country of mutual interests. They were the first secular leaders. Since the 1950’s when “In God We Trust” and “Under God” was added to our currency and our pledge of allegiance, Evangelical Christians have exerted their force through votes and money to make America a “Christian nation”. This flies in the face of all that makes America great. People see that now. Our populace craves the melting pot we all heard about as children. We desire a country filled with cultural, religious, and political diversity. Atheists don’t want to destroy religion. Far from it. They just want religious people to play fair. And, since they’ve been allowed for over 60 years now to bypass the separation of church and state, skirt issues of religious freedom, and push their agenda into congress, they feel oppressed when they are now being told to stop.
It’s inevitable. You can’t deny the math. Atheism is growing rapidly. Atheists align with Democratic policies and issues. As the voting block grows, there simply won’t be the political support for right-wing religious issues anymore. No matter how hard they try, Republicans won’t be able to ignore atheists. They can either fear them and lose or embrace them and change. A secular America is a real and visible future. If the Grand Old Party wants to survive, and continue to be part of the political landscape, they will have see this too, or they will be relegated to history books just like the 5,000+ gods atheists don’t believe in.
Jetta, Jolanda, Haslan, Alexander S., Barlow, Fiona Kate. Bringing Back the System: One Reason Why Conservatives are Happier Than Liberals is That Higher Socioeconimic Status Gives them Access to More Group Memberships. Social Psychological and Personality Science. March 2012. doi:10.1177/1948550612439721
Newport, Frank. (September 2007). Democrats View Religious Groups Less Positively Than Republicans. Gallup, Inc. Retrieved on April 24, 2012 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/24385/democrats-view-religious-groups-less-positively-than-republicans.aspx
Render, Meredith, Religious Practice and Sex Discrimination: An Uneasy Case for Toleration (March 9, 2012). MATTERS OF FAITH, Austin Sarat, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012; U of Alabama Public Law Research Paper No. 2019166. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2019166