A Post-Christian Election? A Vision of the Future.

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 7, 2012 — 42 Comments

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

obama twitter1

President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. […] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.'”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.


Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  “Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Talk about History. The first openly gay Senator, the first Buddhist Congressperson, the first Hindu Senator, and the re-election for the first Black President, all in one election. And also the first time that same-sex marriage has been approved in not one, but three different state-wide referenda. And the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

    • Tara

      I’m feeling good about our future today!

    • And there was much rejoicing: ‘Yay’.

    • I’m starting to get a little giddy. Mourock didn’t just lose in my home state of Indiana – he got kicked in the teeth. Bachmann just barely got re-elected. And Alan West will be the face of the Republican Party for next few days as he goes to court demanding a recount!

      And keep an eye on Tulsi Gabbard:

    • Faoladh

      Colorado and Washington. We legalized it, as well.

      On our ballot were measures to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage, and both passed rather handily.

      • I definitely like the fact that it is getting hard to keep track of all the positive things that occurred in this election.

  • Liona Rowan

    woo and HOO!!! 🙂

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose[….]
    They are if the GOP doesn’t do the kind of outreach you suggest. Marijuana issues apart, you have described pretty much the coalition that Obama put together in 2008 and basically kept going through 2012 (with back-handed help from Republicans who can’t talk about women without saying something stupid). All we Dems need is the wit to keep this coalition together and we will be sitting pretty. Not forever, but for some time to come.
    I don’t know if the GOP is going to wake up. Tea Party rallies I saw on the tube looked pretty white. The second-last prominent Republican to urge diversity upon his party, Jack Kemp, wound up at the intersection of No and Where. The last one, George W Bush, let himself get interrupted by 9/11.
    To all you GOP and libertarian and Tea Party Pagans — I’m not trying to read you out of the meeting. You and I have different principles in a Pagan community that tolerates just such differences. What you’ve got going is an institutional problem in the major party closest to your taste, and that usually calls for an institutional response — either shake up the institution you’ve got or start a new one.
    Although a loyal Democrat I’m quite aware (eg, I live next door to Cuyahoga County, OH) of the virtue of a competitive party to keep both of them honest.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Re-reading this I am compelled to state my respect for GW Bush for his efforts to tamp down anti-Muslim domestic backlash in the wake of 9/11. That could have been seriously ugly. On the other hand I’m appalled at his expressed attitude toward Pagans and that of his Administration. Classic mixed bag.

  • Old_Warhorse

    Why did the Republicans lose again? Several reasons, some of which are: lack of separation between candidates’ religion and their politics, overt bigotry, their favoring of large corporations and the rich over the well being of the country in general, and complete denial of climate change. So long as the Republican party has these problems, they will have to fight an uphill and mostly losing battle. I know a lot of Republicans who are pro-equal rights and pro-choice, as well as very, very much against the crazy evangelicals who have taken over the Republican party. One of them is my Step Dad, who voted for Gary Johnson instead of Mitt Romney.

    To get to the point here after a bit of rambling, essentially, the only way the Republican party is going to recover is to stop being the party of Corporate America, the Rich and the Religious Right. In relation to separating itself from the Religious Right, the Republican party also needs to embrace science and start working to help curb global climate change and help save our environment instead of doing their best to push us into an early ice age. Let the crazy evangelicals and corporations form a separate party, probably the Tea Party, since that seems to be the Tea Party’s biggest demographic to begin with.

    • Ambermoone

      Yes! I have been saying for a while now that the Tea Party needs to become its own party. They pretty much hijacked the GOP. While I don’t agree with some of the economic policies of the modern GOP (trickle down has never seemed to work in my opinion) I would be more inclined to listen to a well spoken intelligent Republican candidate who keeps religion out of how they would govern.

    • You are right; this morning, my 93-year-old Uncle admitted that he wanted the GOP to return to “being a real political party instead of a religious revival side show”. That said a lot – he is a lifelong Republican and still votes the party line out of habit, but admits that they are way off base with today’s current demographic.

      • …my 93-year-old Uncle admitted that he wanted the GOP to return to “being
        a real political party instead of a religious revival side show”.

        That’s probably the best way I’ve seen it put, in a while. I may be a Socialist, but seriously, all the best Rebublicans re-aligned with the Libertarians a long time ago (nothing against your uncle, after all, he admits that it’s just force of habit, lately).

  • Charles Cosimano

    The Evangelicals agree with you and they are in a panic.

  • Robert Mathiesen

    Here is an interesting paragraph from
    an officially sanctioned sermon that was preached in Boston on election
    day in 1852.

    “Such is the religious liberty enjoyed in these United
    States. It is derived directly from the King in Zion. It is not a
    matter of toleration, but a heaven-descended and inalienable right.
    Saul is an Episcopalian, and Cephas a Presbyerian, and Gaius a Baptist,
    and Demas a Roman Catholic, because, in the exercise of their own
    judgement, and under, we trust, a sense of responsibility to God, they
    so choose to be. The people of every nation. Parthians, Medes and
    Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia; and every religious sect,
    whatever may be their faith, with the merest shred of a creed, and
    far-spread patch-work of a superstitious ritual; whether Catholic or
    Protestant, Jew or Turk; they may here worship God, each in his on way,
    without molestation or fear from any human agency. If the Chinese
    choose to erect a Buddhist temple in California, or in any other part of
    the Union, they will meet with no trouble; and no special attention
    will be given to their work or their worship farther than as they may
    be, for a while, matters of curiosity. Every man may sit under his vine
    and his fig-tree and none shall make him afraid.”

    [Rollin H.
    Neale, _A Sermon Delivered before His Excellency George S. Boutwell,
    Governor, His Honor Henry W. Cushman, Lieutenant Governor, the Honorable
    Council, and the Legislature of Massachusetts, at the Annual Election,
    January 8, 1852._ (Boston: Dutton & Wentworth, State Printers,
    1852; 48 pp.), pp. 8-9.]

    Note that religious liberty — not just toleration, but outright liberty! — is said to extend not just to all varieties of Christians, but to Jews and Muslims (the “Turk”), and even to followers of Asian religions.

    Maybe at last we are returning to the way things use to be in our country, before the Protestant moral establishment got a headlock on our government in the decades after the Civil War. Tulsi Gabbard and Mazie Hirono are such welcome additions to Congress. May they be the first of many!

  • I like this post-Christian American future. I may just hang out for a while.

  • Elizabeth Rose

    Could our American baby be … growing up? Hmmm…

  • Riva

    I saw a sign outside a local church that read:

    “Remember America is a Christian nation. Vote accordingly”

  • Ambermoone

    Great article. It is very interesting to consider how many gains were made. I do hope that this is a real wake up call to the GOP.

  • I lived in the Seattle metro area for several years. Western WA is much more liberal than Eastern Wa. There are also many pagans in the Seattle area.

  • In his Fox News interview last night, well before the election was called in favor of Obama, Huchabee went on a tirade about how “the faith vote” would determine the election. He stated that “christian values” had been trampeled on” with the Healthcare Reform Bill; I wonder what he thinks about that now?

  • Raksha

    One thing that I hope comes out of this post-Christian electorate is that the IRS might actually start enforcing the whole “no politics if you churches want to keep your tax-free status” laws. All of the campaigning from the pulpit and the church leaders threatening their congregations with hellfire or with not being able to receive the sacrament if they vote “wrong.” It’s blatantly illegal, but Christian political groups have had so much power, they’ve been getting away with it. Maybe that will start to change?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      It’s perfectly legal for churches to threaten parishioners with hellfire or withhold communion if they violate church laws, eg, support abortion or gay marriage. It’s illegal to instruct them on whom to vote for. The distinction is issues vs candidates.

      • kenneth

        The churches have been doing a LOT of endorsement of candidates in the past few years. There have been bishops and pastors that have told parishioners not to present themselves for communion if they voted Obama. Many more have mastered the thinly veiled endorsement, making it very clear who people should vote for without dropping the name itself. There are definitely grounds for enforcement, at least some warning letters from the IRS, but elected officials are still terrified of these outfits and the “persecution” drama they would put on if made to follow the law.

        • Deerwoman

          I have seen signage for Romney/Ryan which is explicitly Catholic. However, I’m not sure if the organization which produced the signs and associated website is directly affiliated and endorsed by the Catholic Church, or if it’s composed of a group of lay Catholic citizens who have taken it upon themselves to speak as representatives of the religion. The signs were within yards of a local Catholic school, but conveniently were not posted on school property itself.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Catholic lay groups have a history of activity and sophistication in politics.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Have you got a source for the denial of communion for voting for Obama? I’d like to throw that into GetReligion when they start whinging about press slams on conservative bishops.
          Thinly veiled endorsements are thinly veiled to stay on the sunshine side of the law. Black churches do it all the time.

          • Have you got a source for the denial of communion for voting for Obama?

            I tried searching just now, but either it’s deeply buried, or some-one got confused, cos all I’m putting up for the first two pages of results is a story about denial of communion to an out lesbian —which, whether one thinks it’s right or not, is still perfectly within the rights of the Roman Catholic church.

      • Raksha

        But churches DO instruct their parishioners to vote for specific candidates, and get away with it anyway. Hence my problem.

  • NoBodE

    You know, maybe the “47%” really DO matter.

  • Alternet had an article about what propelled Obama into the victory, and they had a statement which I really hope is true and I have been thinking about, a lot:

    back what may well have been the last stand of Ronald Reagan’s
    coalition of plutocrats, white working-class men and religious

    Could we argue that the specter of Ronald Reagan (by extension, I’ll argue, Carter’s inclusion of the Religious) is finally beginning to fade from American politics? I truly hope so, but I’m not sure. HuffPost’s commentator had a valid point about a possible Republican plan of action: Continual blocking of Presidential dealings until 2014, whereby they retake the positions they’ve lost because of a cooling period or reorientation of party issues (possibly ditching the damaged goods), and then bide their time until 2016 where they break out again and potentially control House, Senate, and the Executive branch. But I don’t know if any one can expect what the face of the Republican party to be at that time.

    This IS a historic period. I’m personally excited that Puerto Rico has decided by a majority vote to pursue statehood, which is far too long a time to wait in my opinion. I’m glad America showed that you can’t say stupid, offensive shit and expect to retain your job. I’m wary about the economic recovery, and while Obama isn’t my preferred candidate, I will take him over Mittens. We could have done much, much worse.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      House Republicans have survived one Congressional cycle of pure obstructionism with their majority intact. If they try it for another cycle they may pay a serious price.
      It’s clear the Tea Party is better at hanging onto districts than states, but that’s not a guarantee for the future.

  • lunasgathering

    What would be great is another party equal in strength to the other two that truly reflects the country’s diversity, one that is environmentally motivated. I wanted to vote for Gary Johnson. But the fear of Mitt in charge meant my vote needed to be with Obama. He is the better choice of the two, hands down.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I wonder how different politics would be if everyone voted according to their principles rather than their fears.

  • harmonyfb

    Yesterday, I’d be going along, minding my own business, and then suddenly, I’d remember how the election went – and smile. 🙂
    Lots more women in office, some more religious diversity, marriage equality…I am hopeful about the state of our country for the first time in a long time.

  • New Hampshire also pulled off a good one: Their entire Congressional delegation (both Senators, both Congresswomen) are women, as well as their governor-elect. And I am glad to see my fellow Mainers rejected discrimination, and allowed same-sex marriage.

  • Actually, I’d say that Barack and Michelle are hugging each other, with mutual strength and joy.

  • And the first Level 85 Orc to be elected to a state office: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/11/world-of-warcraft-state-senate-candidate-wins-election/

    I guess this really is the end of Traditional America! May it rest in pieces.