It is reminiscent of the back story to Laura Wingfield’s nickname in The Glass Menagerie. “What’s that? President Obama won re-election because of the nuns?”
Hardly. Although the group is tangentially tied to religion—insofar as many of its members forswear it—the “nones” is a term used in a Pew Research Center survey released today that sheds further light on Obama’s victory in November.
The term, the survey’s preface explains, harks back to the 1960s, when it was coined by social researchers to identify people with “no religion, no particular religion, no religious preference, or the like.”
View slideshow: The “nones” have it (maybe)
While some nones are agnostic or atheist, more than half define themselves as “religious” or “spiritual but not religious.” As NPR notes in its own report on the survey:
They are typically younger, more socially liberal than their forebears, vote Democratic, and now make up nearly 20 percent of the country’s population. Exit polls suggest that 12 percent of voters on Election Day were counted as ‘religiously unaffiliated.’
A graph compiled by Pew shows the extent to which the percentage of those who claim no religious affiliation has grown in just the past five years. A second shows that “nones” are especially prevalent among Millennials.
The loosely formed group’s overwhelming support for Obama may have been a deciding factor in several swing states where the president lost both the Catholic and Protestant vote but carried 70 percent of “nones” votes. Some specifics:
- In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by 3 points and the Catholic vote by 11, but he won the “nones” (which comprise 12 percent of the state’s electorate) by 47 points.
- In Virginia, Obama lost Protestants by 9 points and Catholics by 10 points, but won 76 percent of the “nones,” some 10 percent of the electorate.
- In Florida, Obama lost Protestants by 16 points and Catholics by 5 points, but captured 72 percent of the “nones,” or 15 percent of the electorate.
Similar results were seen in Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
While these findings are potentially troublesome for the GOP, for whom faith is more of a guiding principle, they also suggest pitfalls for the Democrats, some of whose most relied-upon constituencies tend to be socially conservative. Take blacks, as a case in point. Another Pew poll found that 79 percent of blacks consider religion a central factor in their lives. The Obama campaign got a small taste of the problems inherent in backing a policy like same-sex union, which many black clergymen found abhorrent. Obama captured 96 percent of the black vote anyway, but one has to wonder whether a non-black candidate would have the same rate of success.
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