Thursday, December 27, 2012

6 ways politicians can win the atheist vote


In the aftermath of President Obama’s electoral romp over Mitt Romney, the media and pundits have paid much attention to the demographics that propelled him to victory, especially women, Hispanics and young voters. But there’s one more group that played an underappreciated yet crucial role in his reelection, and which only now is starting to get the recognition it deserves.
A growing segment of American society – up to 20%, according to recent surveys, and higher than that in younger generations — is what pollsters call the “nones,” people who answer “None of the above” to questions about religious affiliation. This includes declared atheists and agnostics, as well as people who choose not to identify with any organized religion. In many swing states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia, President Obama lost both Protestants and Catholics by relatively small margins, but won nonreligious voters by huge margins, enough to put him over the top. In the country at large, there are now as many nonreligious people as there are evangelical Christians.
But the political loyalties of this group can’t be taken for granted. For example, despite his dependency on unaffiliated voters, President Obama has broken a campaign promise by continuing to fund and promote George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” which funnels federal money to religious charities that discriminate in hiring. In effect, nonbelieving taxpayers are being forced to subsidize jobs they could never be hired for.
In this cycle, the specter of a Romney presidency indebted to the religious right persuaded nonreligious voters to choose the lesser of two evils. But there’s no guarantee that this will happen in every future election. If Democrats continue to antagonize atheists and other nones, they may just stay home, and that’s a prospect politicians shouldn’t take lightly. As the Republicans become increasingly ideologically purified, Democratic candidates will need, more than ever before, for their base to turn out in big numbers, and that includes the nonreligious. Anything that turns them off, that dampens their enthusiasm or discourages them from showing up, could mean the difference in a close race.
So, how do politicians motivate the nonreligious vote? How do they appeal to them and get them to come out and support them? Here are a few suggestions.
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