White Evangelicals and other religious groups are the most influential voting blocs supporting the Republican Party1. They earned that influence by showing up at the polls election after election, helping the Republican Party gain control of both houses of Congress. It’s not an accident that the Republican Party strongly opposes women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.
Religiously unaffiliated Americans (atheists, agnostics and others) do not have that privilege despite representing a large segment of the population. A Pew Research survey in 2014 found that 23 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated. This number has seen a rapid growth of 42 percent since 2007.
The analysis below indicates that religiously unaffiliated Americans overwhelming support the Senator from Vermont, and by significant margins. Bernie Sanders won 11 out of 15 states with the largest population of religiously unaffiliated Americans. On the flip side, Hillary Clinton won 11 out of 15 states with the lowest share of religiously unaffiliated Americans.
The graph below also shows a correlation between the outcome in the primaries and the percentage of religiously unaffiliated voters in the states.
Limited data from exit polls also confirm this analysis. It’s unfortunate that questions related to religion were only asked in five exit polls (Florida, New York, Texas, Georgia and Arkansas). All states were Clinton won by double digits. In addition, in three of these exit polls (Texas, Georgia and Arkansas,) voters were asked if they attended religious service since not all religious people attend religious service. Nevertheless, the impact of this voting bloc cannot be overlooked.
In Florida where Clinton won by 31 points, exit polls show that religiously unaffiliated Florida voters preferred Sanders to Clinton by a large margin (56 – 43.) The same can be said in New York where they supported Sanders (57 – 43.) Texas results show even a more lopsided support for Bernie Sanders. In spite of Clinton’s landslide win by 32 points, 61 percent of unaffiliated voters chose Sanders over the former Secretary of State. State after state, non-religious Americans support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, regardless of Clinton’s performance overall.
The biggest challenge that faces this voting bloc which leans progressive is “lack of organization.” Religious groups have an advantage as they can easily reach large audiences on Sunday masses. Several non-religious groups, such as “Freedom From Religion Foundation” are attempting to address this challenge. However, their efforts are primarily focused on the separation of Church and State, which even some religious people support, but not so much on advocating progressive values.