Disclaimer: for the purpose of this article, “atheist” refers to those who don’t believe in God or view themselves as having no religion, or as Pew calls them, “nones.”
Atheism has played an important, if controversial, part in American political history — specifically when it comes to religious freedom. If you look at religious freedom cases brought before the US Supreme Court, you will see that many involve atheists, especially cases pertaining to religion in schools. Atheists are the reason public schools cannot teach religion, why students don’t start their mornings with classroom prayers and why, at the end of their education, there will not be a member of the clergy speaking at their graduation. But these are just examples from the mid to late 1900s when atheists were few in number.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of atheists has been growing significantly over the years. Their estimate ranges from 17-35 percent of American adults, but a “most credible indirect estimate” is 26 percent. With these numbers, atheists have the ability to become the largest religious voting bloc in America, beating out Catholics at 20.8 percent and evangelicals at 25.4 percent.
These numbers are so significant, you might wonder why they aren’t being talked about. To begin with, this is uncharted territory for atheists. Atheists have been ignored by politicians for years, especially on the right. Conservative tend to emphasize religious values because their base largely identifies as religious. David Silverman, the president of American Atheists from 2010 until 2018, demonstrated this to a wider audience when he was featured on the late night show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.” It showed him at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) trying to engage in dialogue with conservatives. Most of the conversations led nowhere –– except some people saying they would pray for him. Others still said that they would never vote for an atheist, some going as far as to say that a man who does not start his morning in prayer cannot be trusted to be president.
Seeing this, it is no coincidence that atheists lean Democrat. In fact, Pew found that while 69 percent of atheists identify as or lean Democrat, only 15 percent of atheists are/lean Republican, with the remaining 17 percent claiming neutrality. Still, the question remains: why are atheists –– potentially one of the biggest voting blocs in America –– ignored and even rejected from mainstream politics?
Well, part of it comes down to actual voting records. While there are more atheists of voting age in America than Catholics, Catholics vote more reliably. In fact, the Public Religion Research Institute found that while the rate of atheism in America has dramatically increased over the past two decades, very little has changed in the number of those who vote. The study was concluded after the 2014 election, but we see the percent of registered atheist voters rising steadily while they still only make up about 10-12 percent of the voting population in America.
If a higher percent of atheists vote in this election, they could have a huge impact on the outcome of the midterms. With the rise of the religious right, many question whether the political pendulum is getting ready to swing in the opposite direction. With 69 percent of atheists leaning Democrat, could it be possible that they can make the “Blue Wave” a reality?