By Michelle Boorstein
Joe Stone is part of an enormous but invisible voting constituency.
A “troubled atheist,” the retired Virginia accountant calls himself spiritual, celebrates Christmas and defines religious as the need to “do good.” He says organized religion — Christianity as well as Islam — has “gone off the deep end” and political candidates who emphasize the rightness of a certain faith turn him off. At the same time, Stone calls himself “religiously open-minded.”
When Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told a New Hampshire town hall last month that religion is a way of saying all people are connected, Stone agreed. “He is speaking directly to me,” he said.
Stone is part of a massive group of Americans who reject any label or affiliation to describe their faith. At 23 percent of the U.S. population, this left-leaning group called “Nones” are the Democratic parallel to the GOP’s white evangelicals — except without organization, PACs, leadership and a clear agenda. They do, however, have one big expectation of political candidates: Be ethical, and go light on the God talk.
The Nones’ impact will be tested on Super Tuesday, when multiple states with large unaffiliated populations hold contests: Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont and Colorado. So far, Sanders has a large edge among Nones.
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