Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

The Year of the Nones

Logo of Atheist Nexus
Logo of Atheist Nexus

Logo of Atheist Nexus

Do you want to know who the Nones are supporting for president this year? Thanks to a new national survey from Pew, we can surmise no longer. It’s the most None-ish of the candidates in each party: Donald Trump, the not-very-religious Presbyterian, and Bernie Sanders, the secular Jew.

Republican Nones — or, as Pew prefers to term them, the Unaffiliated — prefer Trump over his rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich 57 percent to 17 percent and 17 percent. Fortunately for the rivals, Nones are not very plentiful in the GOP, constituting only 13 percent of respondents. Fortunately for Trump, he’s also doing well among the other major Republican religious groupings: 38 percent of white evangelicals, 44 percent of white mainline Protestants, and 42 percent of Catholics. Overall, he leads Cruz and Kasich 41-32-20.

It’s also telling that half of those Republicans who don’t go to church very much (less than weekly) prefer Trump, as opposed to to 23 percent for Cruz and 20 percent for Kasich. With a 44 percent plurality, Cruz is the candidate of those who say they attend services once a week or more. But as strong as religious identification remains within the GOP, its less frequent attenders now outnumber its more frequent 53 percent to 46 percent.

On the Democratic side, Sanders swamps Hillary Clinton among Nones 68 percent to 32 percent — and 32 percent of Democratic respondents are Nones. What keeps Clinton ahead in the totals (49 percent to 43 percent) is her big majorities among Protestant Democrats (56-35) and Catholics (59-33). Sanders holds a bare lead among the less frequent religious attenders, who constitute fully 68 percent of Democratic respondents, while Clinton is far ahead among the frequent attenders.

The biggest story in American religion over the past decade has been the rise of the Nones, and Pew’s new findings suggest that they’re still rising, doubling their proportion of Republican voters since the 2012 election and increasing from a quarter to a third their share of the Democrats. It’s fair to say that, for the first time in American history, the Nones making their influence felt on the presidential nominating process.

Religious layout of 2012 presidential election.

Religious layout of 2012 presidential election.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • So the frustration and rejection of the political establishment mirrors the rejection of the religious establishment. Does the rejection of the politically correct rules portend a rejection of religiously correct rules? Perhaps both establishments need to ferret out the root cause(s) of the frustration and rejection. Then again maybe neither establishment cares so long as their power base can maintain the upper hand.

  • cken, I’m not sure what you’re saying here:
    “Does the rejection of the politically correct rules portend a rejection of religiously correct rules?”

    Would you please elaborate?

  • Are Trump and Sanders supporters and the Nones generally all rejecting arbitrary PC and religious rules and establishment power control which has little regard for the individual. I know all religions all believe their rules are Biblically based when by and large they are based on man’s interpretations of the Bible. Many of the rules, call them doctrine or creeds if you will, have little or nothing to do with spiritual growth, nurturing the soul, or fostering a love of God.
    On a more political basis, I think many are tired of rules (laws) and PC which are repressive and seemingly have little benefit for either society or the individual.

  • Okay cken, I think I’m following your reply, if I understand what you’re saying.

    Human holy book interpretation is not necessarily the same as what the deity had in mind. Of course, that presumes that whatever human wrote the book had some magical way of knowing the deity’s mind. If not, the entire document is of the human. The later is my opinion.

    You’re saying dogma via creeds, confessions, etc, are never deity based, but are human opinions and thoughts. Right? I agree.

    I don’t think Sanders or Trump supporters are rejecting all establishment power control. I think trump’s followers are diligent minions of far right evangelical Christian leadership. I agree that they’re rejecting Republican leadership control, absolutely.

    I think Sanders’ people are majority non adherents of any established church and possibly majority non-believers.

    (Continued in next comment.)

  • Your use of the initials “PC” is an entirely different issue. Political Correctness is not a term created by the individuals and groups who supported the changes in language several decades ago.

    The idea is about treating people respectfully and courteously. Most who complain about “PC” seem to dislike that kind of behavior. They want to call others derogatory names, demean and insult them. Their ire is particularly directed at those who are different in culture, skin color, religion, dress, etc.

    The “PC” thing that you’re talking about is directly related to Trump followers who like to claim that “Trump tells it lIke it is.” They don’t mean that he tells the truth. In fact, his lies are well documented. What they like, in addition to the fact that he agrees with them, is that he calls names, blames others, makes childish faces, etc. In other words, he’s not “PC.” He’s like them.

    (Note that I said “most” of Trump’s minions, not “all.”)

  • Perfectly put, Debbo! Thank you!

    It’s as if Trump and his tantrumps believe diplomacy, courtesy, respect, dialog, collaboration, rules, sharing, and the ubiquitous “Them” have no value whatsoever.

    Most people learn at least the last 3 of these in preschool. I wonder whether he & his never learned social behavior, or simply decided to un-learn it so they would be more comfortable abusing their equals.

  • The original intentions of PC were laudable. Now however it has gone too far with things like nonaggression etc. It is now being used to suppress normal conversation. Having said that I do think some of the things Trump has said have gone too far also. I think when college kids are “traumatized” by seeing Trump 2016 chalked on the sidewalk and get it censored then PC has created a generation of people who lack coping skills. I loved it many years ago when I was in college and we had civil discussions about many sensitive issues. We learned how to empathize with others of different backgrounds and cultures. Today these kids are depriving themselves of that opportunity.

  • Thank you G Key. cken, I agree with you about what has happened to “PC.” I too am troubled by what seems to me the overprotection of unpopular or contrary speech. On the other hand, I have not experienced a lifetime of what is called “microagressions” so I must qualify my opinion.

  • Actually the far right religious minions are the ones following Cruz because he is one of them. (see Seven Mountain Dominion and Cruz’s dad) I think Trump and Sanders have both tapped into a frustration even perhaps anger that is pervasive in recent America.
    BTW I tend to agree with you about the Bible, It is a collection of ancient and early Christian writings, some to be taken literally some allegorically. Regardless as a whole it contains much truth and wisdom which when understood in the context of the era is still relevant in today’s world. Great writings never perish because we can learn from them. Aristotle, Plato, and Aquinas would be examples other than the Bible. Even the Koran and especially the Gita contain many teachings we should take to heart.

  • By today’s standards I am sure we have all suffered micro-aggression. Sometimes it was in the form of constructive criticism, sometimes attempted empathy not well expressed. But we learned from it through civil discourse and actually trying to understand the other person. Today you assault somebody for “culture appropriation” or claim to be traumatized by somebody who expresses a different opinion from yours.

  • I don’t really think that Trump is xtian at all, which is why half of the Republicans that follow him are not church goers. Besides Trump’s little faux pas in naming the biblical book that he was quoting from, even the Pope questioned Trump’s xtianity. I find hope in the fact that none of Trump’s follower’s seem to care.
    “I agree that they’re rejecting Republican leadership control, absolutely.” I do agree that they are rejecting Republican leadership control and in a sense, are more of a third party. There has been some talk of Trump running as a third party and other Republican candidates are seriously against Trump.
    I have found the whole Trump phenomena to be kind of fascinating. While he doesn’t really have any chance of winning, I am kind of hopeful that this could all mean that a third party candidate could possibly win in the future. It does seem that both parties are rising up against the candidates chosen by their own party and the PC of laws/rules and…

  • It does seem to me that free speech is danger of becoming politically incorrect. The ACLU has been very outspoken about protecting what most of us would call hate speech because the ideal of free speech is more important than any message of hate, real or perceived.

    Even more to the point, I think that hate speech should be exposed so that it can be countered. We have protected the right to free speech for Nazi’s and the KKK and look what has happened to them. They are a bare remnant of their beginnings and I believe, an ever present reminder of the power of free speech. For those who defend what happened in Chicago I wonder, am I the only person who remembers that “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.?. I am very concerned about those that are bragging about how they stopped Trump from delivering his message in Chicago. Denying his right to free speech is to deny your own right to free speech and that can never be…

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