More American voters than ever say they are not religious, making the religiously unaffiliated the nation’s biggest voting bloc by faith for the first time in a presidential election year. This marks a dramatic shift from just eight years ago, when the non-religious were roundly outnumbered by Catholics, white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants.
These numbers come from a new Pew Research Center survey, which finds that “religious ‘nones,’ who have been growing rapidly as a share of the U.S. population, now constitute one-fifth of all registered voters and more than a quarter of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters.” That represents a 50 percent increase in the proportion of non-religious voters compared with eight years ago, when they made up just 14 percent of the overall electorate.
“In 2008, religious ‘nones’ were outnumbered or at parity with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics,” the survey’s lead researcher, Greg Smith, said in an interview. “Today, ‘nones’ outnumber both of those groups.”
The growth of the non-religious — about 54 percent of whom are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 23 percent at least leaning Republican — could provide a political counterweight to white evangelical Protestants, a historically powerful voting bloc for Republicans. In 2016, 35 percent of Republican voters identify as white evangelicals, while 28 percent of Democratic voters say they have no religion at all.