November 12, 2008
Old Town Alexandria, Northern Virginia—Jogging through this gorgeous, historic town the first Saturday after the Tuesday vote, which elected the most leftist presidential candidate in American history, it isn’t difficult to see how the typically Republican state of Virginia went Democrat in 2008. The sheer volume of “Obama-Biden” signs in the windows of BMWs and million-dollar townhouses is stunning, surpassed only by dogs on leashes—and in direct contrast to the conspicuous lack of children.
Likewise, the bumper stickers on Lexuses on cobblestone streets offer a tutorial on the force of liberal migration to Northern Virginia. They shout out a visceral hatred of George W. Bush—plus much more. As I ventured closer to the DC border, one particular bumper sticker caught my eye: “I’m Pagan and I Vote.”
That, too, is telling—and worthy of careful consideration, especially given its failure to register among the press. Once again, in this presidential election, non-religious Americans came out in large numbers, and again cast ballots overwhelmingly for the Democratic nominee. As these citizens become more bold and vocal—evidenced by the spate of bestselling atheistic books in the last few years—they can no longer be ignored.
Before considering the data, I want to be very clear: Obviously, I’m not saying that if you voted for Barack Obama, you’re an atheist. Quite the contrary, Obama won the presidency because so many believers voted for him. According to CNN exit polls, 45 percent of Protestants and 53 percent of Catholics voted for Obama, as did 78 percent of Jews. Please, no angry emails.
What I’m saying is that the vast majority of self-described non-religious voting Americans went for Obama, and they were decisive.
CNN exit polls found that 76 percent of those who answered “none” when asked about religious affiliation cast ballots for Obama. They comprised 12 percent of voters. That equates to an Obama grab of at least 11 million (generally) non-religious voters—a number notably larger than Obama’s overall popular-vote victory of roughly eight million. That’s a huge advantage for the Democratic nominee, one that gets more powerful every four years.
The contrast is clear when broken down among church attendance. Those who attend church services “once a week” voted for McCain by 55 to 43 percent, while those who attend “a few times a year” went for Obama 59 to 39 percent, and those who “never” go to church voted Obama 67 to 30 percent.
The numbers are consistent among denominations: John McCain actually won Catholics who attend Mass weekly (50 to 49 percent), but was trounced by Catholics who don’t attend weekly (58 to 40 percent). McCain’s largest margin was white evangelical/born-again Christians, which he swept 74 to 24 percent. Yet, even then, that margin was not as wide as those with no religious affiliation who w ent for Obama.
What’s most significant is that this is nothing new. It is a recent trend gravitating to an increasingly secular Democratic Party.
Consider the 2004 presidential race: According to CNN exit polling, those who attend church more than once per week went for George W. Bush by 63 to 35 percent, or by 11.6 million to 6.4 million votes, a difference of 5.2 million votes; those who said they never attend church went for John Kerry by 64 to 34 percent, or by 11.1 million to 5.9 million votes, also a difference of 5.2 million votes. This was much like the 2000 vote, when those who attended church more than weekly went for Bush by 63 to 36 percent, whereas Vice President Al Gore bagged those who never attended by 61 to 32 percent.
In other words, the religious “values voters” often credited for winning the day for George W. Bush in 2004 and 2000 were effectively countered by non- or less-religious Americans who tried to win the day for John Kerry and Al Gore.
Look at how the 2004 vote broke down in the most important states for Democrats: In California, one in four voters said they never attend church, and they went for Kerry 63 to 34 percent. In New York, the 12 percent of voters who claimed no religion at all voted for Kerry by 78 to 19 percent. Atheists and agnostics are prominent in the two bluest states most important to Democratic presidential nominees.
It is quite telling that liberal journalists are constantly wringing their hands over the evangelical vote, but could care less about the rise of an atheist vote. Whereas evangelicals scare them to death—and are highlighted as a dangerous force—atheists are of no concern whatsoever.
Non-believers have forged a potent voting bloc, probably unprecedented in American history. And while a lot of Republicans push to make the GOP an even bigger “tent,” count me as one who prefers to cede this vote to the Democrats.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperPerennial, 2007) and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).