Some Religiously Unaffiliated Voters Voted for Trump


With all the "soul" searching taking place among atheists, humanists, and other secular persons in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I think it is important to remember that 26% of religiously unaffiliated voters voted for Donald Trump (Pew Research Center). I realize that not everyone who identifies as "religiously unaffiliated" is an atheist or a humanist, but I mention this number as a reminder that secular voters are not a voting block. If one bothers to look, one will find political diversity among atheists, humanists, secular persons, and other religiously unaffiliated voters.

In her post for Religion News Service, Kimberly Wilson writes:
Political rallies on the Washington Mall, conventions in religious states such as Utah and Texas, and the creation of scores of local chapters of national secular advocacy groups like the Secular Coalition for America did not help the secular vote — sometimes called the “atheist vote” — coalesce into a voting bloc for Hillary Clinton, generally seen as the more secular-friendly candidate.
Right. And an important but rarely acknowledged part of why this is the case is that secular voters are not uniformly left-leaning nor are they all single-issue (i.e., secularism) voters. Some secular voters are not going to vote for Democrats no matter which candidates they run because they prefer Republicans. And some secular voters will support a candidate who does not have the best record on church-state issues if they think the candidate is preferable in other areas.

Wilson is probably correct to note that Trump's platform was widely perceived as anti-secular or at least anti-humanist in many important ways. And yet, the data from Pew suggest that some voters without any religious affiliation still supported him. Again, I suspect this is because they liked some of what he had to say in other areas, although it could also be because they simply regarded him as the lesser evil vs. Clinton.

When Wilson says that the outcome of this election "...has left atheist, humanist and secular organizations re-examining their political strategies...," I'll take this as a good sign. I think this is something that is important for us to do. I'd like to see as increased recognition of the fact that some secular voters find themselves right-of-center on the political spectrum and others reject the authoritarian tendencies which have become so predominant among many on the left. For more thoughts on what liberals, secular or otherwise, should consider after this election, I refer you to this post from Atheism and the City.

If secular organizations would like a broader and more active coalition of secular voters, perhaps they should aim to appeal to a wider variety of people. It seems to me that these organizations could appeal to a broader coalition of secular voters by rejecting authoritarianism, political correctness, and identity politics while embracing the Enlightenment values consistent with freethought (i.e., classical liberalism) and emphasizing the importance of preserving freedom in the face of religious oppression.