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Nonedecision 2020: Four Decades of the None Vote

Nov 12, 2019

By Juhem Navarro-Rivera

In many states today is Election Day, and millions of people will be going to the polls. Of course, next year voters across the country will be deciding on the next president of the United States. In the intervening twelve months I will be looking at different aspects of secularism and politics in the US, focusing in this first column on exit poll results to explore four decades of the secular vote and how it has evolved as the secular population has increased.

Since 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected president, there have been ten presidential elections. According to exit poll data in each of those elections, the majority of nones have voted for the Democratic Party candidate. This Democratic preference has increased substantially in recent years compared to the 1980s; the 1980, 1984, and 1988 elections are the most “competitive” in terms of the margin of victory the Democratic candidates achieved among the nones. Elections in the 1990s (’92, ’96, and 2000) saw support for Republicans hit its lowest points, with nonreligious voters abandoning GOP candidates in large numbers. In the current century (2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections), Democrats have reached their highest level of support from the nones so far.

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat running for reelection, received 41 percent of the none vote. His opponent and winner of that election, former California governor Ronald Reagan, received 36 percent of the none vote. That five-percentage-point margin would be the closest a Republican presidential candidate would ever get to a Democrat among the nones. By 1984 the Republican share (for Ronald Reagan) increased to 40 percent, but the Democratic share (for former vice president Walter Mondale) was 59 percent in a year that Reagan won in a landslide. In 1988 the Democratic candidate, then Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, won a majority of the none vote (62 percent) while the winner, Vice President George H.W. Bush, received 36 percent of the none vote as the Republican candidate. This was the last time a Republican received at least one-third of the none vote.

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