November 13, 2012

The Atheist Constituency

WAtheist Votershen Lauren Anderson Youngblood, communications manager of the Secular Coalition for America, met with a senior advisor to the Obama campaign, she was reportedly told that the administration does not view secular Americans as a constituency. According to Youngblood, she was told that the administration does not "do outreach to that community." That seems accurate. There has been little evidence of any political administration in the U.S. doing outreach to those of us who do not identify with any particular religious tradition.

Some are suggesting that this may change in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, but I tend to be extremely skeptical that this will happen anytime soon. Yes, there are quite a few Americans who do not identify with any religion. There's no question about that. Based on our numbers, we should receive more attention from politicians than many other groups.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of good reasons why this is not happening:
  • As a group, we tend to vote Democratic regardless of how much the Democratic Party pushes faith. Why would they pay attention to us when they know they don't have to?
  • We are so disorganized, even to the point where many of us actively oppose any sort of efforts to organize, that we will not let anyone speak for us. Nobody can reasonably claim to represent our community or negotiate on our behalf; we will not permit it.
  • It is virtually impossible for a political party to cater to both us and religious voters simultaneously, and no party can afford to lose religious voters.
  • Almost none of us are single-issue voters (i.e., we do not vote our atheism or even primarily on the basis of church-state issues).
  • Our community is so divided over a handful of key issues that uniting us into an effective voting block seems nearly impossible.

I can see where Youngblood is coming when she offers the following interpretation of data from exit polls:
The numbers don't lie. They are an indicator of our untapped potential and politicians who want our vote need to focus on making decisions as lawmakers with reason and science, not theology. They need to tone down the religious rhetoric and when they do mention religious groups, mention us too, because we too are constituents and Americans and we deserve inclusion in our government.
We absolutely deserve inclusion in our government. But haven't we demonstrated again and again that we are going to vote for politicians who do not do any of this stuff? What incentive could these politicians have to work with us when we seem to go along with whatever they do anyway, especially if working with us might jeopardize their support among the religious? It would be great if more politicians sought to include us because it was the right thing to do, but I think that we will have to make some major changes within our community before this will be very appealing to most politicians.

What You Can Do Today

If you would like to remind the Obama administration that there are many of us who would prefer to see religion de-emphasized in his second term, I encourage you to check out this action alert. Perhaps we can persuade a politician who no longer has to worry about campaigning to work with us.