Nones not mobilized?

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Over at Immanent Frame, Clemson political scientist Laura Olson seizes on Bill Maher’s question why the religiously unaffiliated are not mobilized and comes up with the rather obvious conclusion that it’s hard to mobilize a diverse group of people who are, well, unaffiliated. As opposed to mobilizing church folk, with respect to whom (as the religion-and-politics saw has it ), “If they’re in the pews, they get the cues.”

And yet, what’s  odd about the Maher-Olson question is its premise is wrong. Call them unaffiliated or (as I prefer) Nones or simply non-attenders, the least religious Americans are politically mobilized. Twenty years ago, they split their votes pretty evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Now they vote Democratic at a 3-1clip. That makes them as mobilized as white evangelicals. What’s mobilized them? More than anything else, the religiosification of the Republican Party. They got the cues by not being in the pews.

Addendum: Daren Sherkat makes the point (in the comment below) that Olson has a point when it comes to the “undermobilization of secular people into social movement organizations and political action committees.” I know of no empirical studies that demonstrate that to be the case, though there may well be some. In any event it’s a plausible enough claim, given the propensity of people with organizational ties (religious or otherwise) to be more civically engaged generally than those who do not. What is certainly the case is that the religiously affiliated, and those attend worship a lot, have generally tended to vote in greater numbers than those who aren’t and don’t–and that’s where the mobilization rubber hits the road. However, as this 2007 study by Tom Smith of NORC data shows, in this decade Nones have been voting at about the same rate as religious folks.  

  • You both have valid points. Olson is really amplifying the relative undermobilization of secular people into social movement organizations and political action committees. Yet, as you note, in the end secular VOTERS have avoided the party of conservative Christianity. Still, Olson has a point that the overall influence of seculars is probably muted by their under-representation in the political process beyond the ballot box–and many important things happen beyond the ballot box.