If a very young, fast-growing segment of the U.S. population comprised a significant proportion of the residents (and potential voters) of key battleground states they would be the subject of constant media attention and pandering from politicians. Case in point, the most recent issue of Time focuses on the deciding role Latino voters may play in the 2012 elections. As the fastest-growing ethnic minority, Latinos are getting a lot of attention from the media and politicians because they are a high proportion of the population in several key battleground states. Commentators claim that if politicians (and political parties) ignore Latino voters, they will do so at their own peril.
While it is true that Latino voters may play a deciding role in the 2012 Presidential election, there is a group of similar size and growth rate that is not mentioned as crucial in the coming Presidential election. These are the Nones, the 15% of Americans who do not identify with any particular religion.
The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that 34 Million adult Americans are Nones. An earlier version of the ARIS, the National Survey of Religious Identification found that just 8%, about 14 Million, of American adults identified as Nones in 1990. This growth of the None population parallels the growth of the Latino adult population over the same time frame. Similar to Latinos, as Nones grow among the general population, they are also becoming a larger proportion of the American electorate. These secular voters are becoming a coherent voting bloc.
Since the 1996 Presidential election the proportion of secular voters preferring the Democratic Party candidate has increased from 59% (voting to re-elect President Clinton) to 75% (voting to elect President Obama). The widening of this gap is no surprise if we look at the social policy preferences of secular Americans. According to the 2007 Pew Religious Landscape Survey, 71% of secular Americans think that “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” 70% support a woman’s right to choose, and 66% think that “government is too involved in morality.”
As the Republican nomination campaign narrative increasingly focuses on culture-war issues such as contraception and women’s and gay rights it is worth remembering that, according to ARIS, secular voters are as numerous as Latino voters, a growing segment of the population in several battleground states (such as Arizona, Colorado and Nevada) and with strong views on church-state issues. Though the President may not be the strong defender of secularism that most humanists would prefer, in the current contraception debate 68% of the non-religious prefer the President’s position rather than those of his opponents. If the culture wars get reignited, Latinos may get help from the secular vote deciding the election.