Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-mrcq8 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-22T13:18:33.533Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Home on Sunday, Home on Tuesday? Secular Political Participation in the United States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2017

Mark Brockway*
University of Notre Dame


The American religious landscape is transforming due to a sharp rise in the percentage of the population that is nonreligious. Political and demographic causes have been proffered but little attention has been paid to the current and potential political impact of these “nones,” especially given the established link between religion, participation, and party politics. I argue that the political impact of nonreligious Americans lies in an unexplored subset of the nonreligious population called committed seculars. Committed seculars de-identify with religion, they adopt secular beliefs, and join organizations structured on secular beliefs. Using a unique survey of a secular organization, the American Humanist Association, I demonstrate that committed seculars are extremely partisan and participatory, and are driven to participate by their ideological extremity in relation to the Democratic Party. These results point to a long-term mobilizing dimension for Democrats and indicate the potential polarizing influence of seculars in party politics.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Albertson, Bethany. 2015. “Dog-Whistle Politics: Multivocal Communication and Religious Appeals.” Political Behavior 37:326.Google Scholar
Aldrich, John H. 1983. “A Downsian Spatial Model with Party Activism.” American Political Science Review 77:974990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Party Politics in America. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ansolabehere, Stephen. 2012. “CCES Common Content, 2010.” (Accessed on June 1, 2017).Google Scholar
Audette, Andre P., and Weaver, Christopher L.. 2015. “Faith in the Court: Religious Out-Groups and the Perceived Legitimacy of Judicial Decisions.” Law & Society Review 49:9991022.Google Scholar
Baker, Joseph O. 2012. “Perceptions of Science and American Secularism.” Sociological Perspectives 55:167188.Google Scholar
Barker, David C., Hurwitz, Jon, and Nelson, Traci L.. 2008. “Of Crusades and Culture Wars: ‘Messianic’ Militarism and Political Conflict in the United States.” The Journal of Politics 70:307322.Google Scholar
Beard, T. Randolph, Ekelund, Robert B. Jr., Ford, George S., Gaskins, Ben, and Tollison, Robert D.. 2013. “Secularism, Religion, and Political Choice in the United States.” Politics and Religion 6:753777.Google Scholar
Bolce, Louis, and De Maio, Gerald. 2002. “Our Secularist Democratic Party.” (Accessed on June 1, 2017).Google Scholar
Campbell, David E. 2004. “Acts of Faith: Churches and Political Engagement.” Political Behavior 26:155180.Google Scholar
Campbell, David E. 2006. “Religious ‘Threat’ in Contemporary Presidential Elections.” The Journal of Politics 68:104115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Campbell, David E., and Layman, Geoffrey C.. 2011a. “Secular America Survey: Second Wave.” Provided to author by principle investigators.Google Scholar
Campbell, David E. and Layman, Geoffrey C.. 2011b. “Survey of the American Humanist Association.” Provided to author by principle investigators.Google Scholar
Campbell, David E., Layman, Geoffrey C., and Green, John C.. N.d. “Putting Politics First: The Impact of Politics on American Religious and Secular Orientations.” American Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming.Google Scholar
Campbell, David E., Green, John C., and Layman, Geoffrey C.. 2011. “The Party Faithful: Partisan Images, Candidate Religion, and the Electoral Impact of Party Identification.” American Journal of Political Science 55:4258.Google Scholar
Chaves, Mark. 1994. “Secularization as Declining Religious Authority.” Social Forces 72:749774.Google Scholar
Cimino, R., and Smith, C.. 2007. “Secular Humanism and Atheism beyond Progressive Secularism.” Sociology of Religion 68:407424.Google Scholar
Cimino, Richard P., and Smith, Christopher. 2014. Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism and Community in America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Cimino, Richard, and Smith, Christopher. 2011. “The New Atheism and the Formation of the Imagined Secularist Community.” Journal of Media and Religion 10:2438.Google Scholar
Claassen, Ryan L. 2015. Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans?: Party Activists, Party Capture, and the “God Gap.” New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cox, Daniel, Navarro-Rivera, Juhem, and Jones, Robert P.. 2013. “In Search of Libertarians in America.” (Accessed on Accessed April 6, 2013).Google Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Gilbert, Christopher P.. 2006. “The Resourceful Believer: Generating Civic Skills in Church.” Journal of Politics 68:116127.Google Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Gilbert, Christopher P.. 2008. The Political Influence of Churches. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Grant, J. Tobin. 2001. “Religious Institutions and Political Participation in America.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40:303314.Google Scholar
Djupe, Paul A., and Olson, Laura R.. 2014. Encyclopedia of American religion and politics. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.Google Scholar
Gorski, Philip S. 2000. “Historicizing the Secularization Debate: Church, State, and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Ca. 1300 to 1700.” American Sociological Review 65:138167.Google Scholar
Green, John C., and Guth, James L.. 1988. “The Christian Right in the Republican Party: The Case of Pat Robertson's Supporters.” The Journal of Politics 50:150165.Google Scholar
Green, John C., Guth, James L., Smidt, Corwin E., and Kellstedt, Lyman A.. 1996. Religion and the Culture Wars. Lahnam, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
Guth, James L., Green, John C., Kellstedt, Lyman A., and Smidt, Corwin E.. 1995. “Faith and the Environment: Religious Beliefs and Attitudes on Environmental Policy.” American Journal of Political Science 39:364382.Google Scholar
Hanmer, Michael J., and Kalkan, Kerem Ozan. 2013. “Behind the Curve: Clarifying the Best Approach to Calculating Predicted Probabilities and Marginal Effects from Limited Dependent Variable Models.” American Journal of Political Science 57:263277.Google Scholar
Ho, Daniel E., Imai, Kosuke, King, Gary, and Stuart, Elizabeth A.. 2007. “Matching as Nonparametric Preprocessing for Reducing Model Dependence in Parametric Causal Inference.” Political Analysis 15:199236.Google Scholar
Hout, M., and Fischer, Claude S.. 2002. “Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations.” American Sociological Review 67:165190.Google Scholar
Hout, Michael, and Fischer, Claude S.. 2014. “Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987–2012.” Sociological Science 14:423447.Google Scholar
Hughey, Michael W. 1979. “The Idea of Secularization in the Works of Max Weber: A Theoretical Outline.” Qualitative Sociology 2:85111.Google Scholar
Hunsberger, Bruce E., and Altemeyer, Bob. 2006. Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers. New York, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
Hunter, James Davison. 1991. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Iyer, Ravi, Koleva, Spassena, Graham, Jesse, Ditto, Peter, and Haidt, Jonathan. 2012. “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians.” (Accessed on June 1, 2017).Google Scholar
Kelly, Nathan J., and Kelly, Jana Morgan. 2005. “Religion and Latino Partisanship in the United States.” Political Research Quarterly 58:8795.Google Scholar
Kelly, Nathan J., and Morgan, Jana. 2007. “Religious Traditionalism and Latino Politics in the United States.” American Politics Research 36:236263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Layman, Geoffrey C., and Weaver, Christopher L.. 2016. “Religion and Secularism among American Party Activists.” Politics and Religion 9:271295.Google Scholar
Layman, Geoffrey C., and Green, John C.. 2006. “Wars and Rumours of Wars: The Contexts of Cultural Conflict in American Political Behaviour.” British Journal of Political Science 36:6189.Google Scholar
Layman, Geoffrey C., Campbell, David E., Green, John C., and Sumaktoyo, Nathanael Gratias. (2017). Working Paper. “Active Secularism and the Politics of Irreligion in the United States.”Google Scholar
Layman, Geoffrey. 2001. The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Lim, Chaeyoon, MacGregor, Carol Ann, and Putnam, Robert D.. 2010. “Secular and Liminal: Discovering Heterogeneity among Religious Nones.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 49:596618.Google Scholar
McDaniel, Eric. 2008. Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Niose, David. 2012. Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans. New York, NY: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Norris, Pippa, and Inglehart, Ronald. 2004. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olson, Laura R., and Green, John C.. 2006. “The Religion Gap.” PS: Political Science & Politics 39:455459.Google Scholar
Pasquale, Frank L. 2005. “Neglecting the ‘Nots’ in the Northwest: Irreligion as a Facet of the Study of Religion.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Rochester, NY.Google Scholar
Pew Research Center. 2015a. “A Closer Look at America's Rapidly Growing Religious ‘nones.’” (Accessed on May 29, 2015).Google Scholar
Pew Research Center. 2015b. “America's Changing Religious Landscape.” (Accessed on June 1, 2017).Google Scholar
Pigliucci, Massimo. 2013. “New Atheism and the Scientistic Turn in the Atheism Movement.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 37:142153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Putnam, Robert D. 2001. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
Putnam, Robert D., and Campbell, David E.. 2010. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
Rozell, Mark J., and Wilcox, Clyde. 1995. “God at the Grass Roots: The Christian Right in the 1994 Elections.” In Religious Forces in the Modern Political World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
Rozell, Mark J., and Wilcox, Clyde. 1996. “Second Coming: The Strategies of the New Christian Right.” Political Science Quarterly 111:271294.Google Scholar
Smidt, Corwin, den Dulk, Kevin, Froehle, Bryan, Penning, James, Monsma, Stephen, and Koopman, Douglas. 2010. The Disappearing God Gap?: Religion in the 2008 Presidential Election. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Gregory A. 2005. “The Influence of Priests on the Political Attitudes of Roman Catholics.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44:291306.Google Scholar
Sullivan, Amy. 2008. The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
Hansen, Susan B. 2011. Religion and Reaction: The Secular Political Challenge to the Religious Right. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Brady, Henry E., and Brady, Henry E.. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Weber, Max, and Owen, David S.. [1919] 2004. The Vocation Lectures. New York, NY: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
Wilcox, Clyde, and Robinson, Carin. 2010. Onward Christian Soldiers?: The Religious Right in American Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
Wilcox, Clyde, Rozell, Mark, and Gunn, Roland. 1996. “Religious Coalitions in the New Christian Right.” Social Science Quarterly 77:543.Google Scholar
Wilcox, Clyde. 1988. “The Christian Right in the Twentieth Century: Continuity and Change.” Review of Politics 50:659681.Google Scholar
Wilcox, Clyde. 1992. God's Warriors: The Christian Right in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Brockway supplementary material 1

Brockway supplementary material

Download Brockway supplementary material 1(File)
File 367 KB