The biggest news about religion in America these days is the rise of the Nones — those Americans who answer “none” when asked about their religious identity. In 1990, they constituted eight percent of the population. A quarter century later they’re pushing 25 percent.
It is, then, a sign of the times that in 2016 a leading presidential candidate from each party — and the two who have generated the most excitement — show little interest in religion.
On the Democratic side there’s Bernie Sanders, a classic secular liberal Jew who makes no bones about his lack of faith. Yes, he acknowledges his Jewish roots in (where else?) Brooklyn. But he does not so much as tip his hat to religious observance. He draws his strongest support from young voters, 35 percent of whom identified as Nones in the last presidential election. Bernie may be an old guy, but in that sense he’s one of them.
Across the aisle, Donald Trump has, to be sure, talked about his little cracker and his little wine, about how the Bible is the greatest book ever, his favorite, and that he has a collection of them. He calls himself a Presbyterian but shows no awareness of what the denomination stands for. He belongs to Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church but that Dutch Reformed church says he’s not an active member.
In other words, there’s no reason to believe that Trump is a religious person in any meaningful sense of the word. It should therefore come as no surprise that the core of his support comes from the least religious segment of the Republican Party, according to this year’s Pew demographic analysis of the rise of the Nones. As Breitbart succinctly put it: “Pew: Religious ‘Nones’ Tend to Be Undereducated, Poor, White Males.”
One of the truisms of U.S. politics is that the there’s no way an atheist could ever be elected president. But a None? In this election year that’s a whole nother story.