Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Will Rise of Nonreligious Reshape Us Politics?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Will Rise of Nonreligious Reshape Us Politics?

Article excerpt

Don't expect any official "Atheists for Hillary" outreach, but political progressives are cheered by a study showing a rise in the number of nonreligious Americans.

It's not because top Democrats are irreligious; both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are persons of faith. But liberals welcomed the findings of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study, released last week by the Pew Research Center, which showed a country growing less religious. Republicans consistently do well among voters with strong religious beliefs, and Democrats score better with voters who don't express religious views.

The huge study - a 35,000-person sample - reveals that over the past seven years, there has been a 10 percent decline in self- identified Christians, though they still are more than 70 percent of the population. At the same time, the religiously nonaffiliated, or "nones," have increased by about one-third and now account for about 23 percent of American adults. This trend could have political implications. In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney easily won among Christian voters, and Obama carried 70 percent of the unaffiliated. This divide was even more apparent in the 2014 congressional elections.

Evangelical Protestants, the core of the Republican base since Ronald Reagan, have held steady over the past seven years, according to the study, though their share of the population has declined somewhat. In the last presidential and midterm elections, evangelicals made up more than a quarter of the electorate and voted Republican by a four-to-one ratio.

The number of Catholics also has declined slightly. They are about a quarter of the electorate and constitute a political swing group. White Catholics vote are more likely to be Republican, and their non-white counterparts are mainly Democrats.

The growth of the "nones" - designating "people who self- identify as atheists or agnostics, as well as those who say their religion is 'nothing in particular,'" is most pronounced among younger Americans. More than a third of millennials - 18- to 33- year-olds - have no religious affiliation. …

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