"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Really unaffiliated

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PHONE! Or, as Wolf Blitzer would say, “We have BREAKING NEWS coming into the Situation Room!” Well, that’s what he tries to say – no matter how it comes out.

Have you heard of the “nones?” No, not “nuns.” NONES! Well, you’re going to get familiar with that label and be seeing and hearing more about that group if you follow elections. It’s the newest identifier word among political wonks and the Nate Silver’s of the world.

“Nones” are officially voters who have no specific religious affiliation. The “nones.” In the 2012 election numbers, “nones” accounted for 17% of the vote. Put in perspective, 17% is larger than Hispanic vote, 18-24 year olds or the hardest core of pro-lifers. Can you say “significant?”

The Pew Research Center says this new classification of voters is “politically important and consequential” and “one of the strongest Democratic constituencies in the population.” In 2012, Pew found about one in five survey respondents called themselves “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” All said they never attend church.

Now that attendance information might be unimportant if you figure there are probably a lot more “unchurched” folks out there who don’t vote. So what? But if 17% of the people who DO vote can be identified, the question for political campaigns is “how do we reach them?” ‘Cause they gotta be reached!

These folks are important. In 2008, for example, numerically they were as reliable a constituency for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants were for John McCain. Democrats didn’t identify the “nones” and go after those votes! There was no specific effort to target them. How could there be? And their number grew a full three percentage points from 2008-2012.

The demographics of “nones” make them hard to appeal to. They seem to be liberal on social issues – more likely to support same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But half surveyed called their political ideology “conservative” and about 40% “moderate.” A real mixed bag. Still, they appear to lean heavily toward Democrats.

It’s not surprising that two-thirds of the “nones” believe churches and other faith-based organizations are too involved in politics while 70% say religious institutions are “too concerned with money and power.”

Remember – it’s the “money and power” factors that make groups like evangelical Christians and Catholics targets of political campaigns because they can plug into nationwide communications networks and fund raising. These “nones” don’t have a system of connection so, again, how do you find them and how do you reach them?

There’s a group called “Secular Coalition for America” that lobbies on behalf of atheists, agnostics and a few others. But membership in that one organization is nowhere near the 17% identified as a voting block.
Now, here’s where we wander off into speculation. The “what ifs.”

There are many, many disaffected Republicans out there. Their party has raced to the edge of the known political flat earth – leaving the moderates behind. Sort of “out in the middle of the political road,” so to speak. My own belief is there are more being left out than being included but the “included” ones have control of the party. And will continue to do so for many moons.

While the “controllers” will soon make some mealy-mouthed legislative overtures to Hispanics, Blacks and other target groups, it’s a good bet there will be nothing substantive enough to divert large numbers to the present GOP cause in the next few years. Bet on it.

So, “what if” that sizeable number of rational, more moderate Republicans reached out to this “nones” group? “What if” some of the more conservative-but-independent voters joined up? Could you put enough of these proven – and in some cases disaffected – voters together to make a political party?

Conversely, “what it” Democrats figure out how to communicate with this 17% of “nones” who really do go to the polls? Added to Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities beyond a serious Republican reach, seems you’d have a coalition that would keep the GOP elephants in the wilderness for several generations.

Well, as I said, “speculation.” But here’s a fact. When you can count those “nones” votes that make up as large a block as they do – and you know they’re out there and what they think – some smart political wonk is going to figure out how to reach them. And – more important – how to appeal to them and move them into a party.

So what’s your bet? Which more inclusive national political party do you think will be successful?

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