Representative Ron Paul, a doctor, will always be more appealing to non-religious voters than will former pastor Mike Huckabee. Conservatives have numerous doctors and scientists in their ranks, including Representatives Tom Price and Diane Black. It wouldn’t hurt for Republicans to try to elevate more of them to leadership positions. These men and women should be encouraged to talk about the connection they see between good science and conservatism. Talk about God, sure. But talk about Ben Franklin, too.
Youngblood also mentioned that non-religious voters are often frustrated that Republicans in some states push for creationism to be taught in public-school classrooms. On top of that, Youngblood adds Republican support for abstinence-only sex ed in public schools as another problem for non-religious voters. Republican leaders need to think seriously about whether or not these issues are hills to die on. (Hint: They aren’t.)
Here’s the good news: The GOP’s outreach to other minority groups might have unexpected payoffs among the “nones.” Pew notes that the recent increase in the number of nones “has been concentrated in one group: whites.” But if racial and ethnic diversity are important to white nones, the GOP will make itself more congenial to them if it succeeds in drawing more black, Hispanic, Asian-American, and young female voters. No demographic is an island, as it were.
“Is the Democratic party welcoming of atheists? You know, I don’t know what the answer to that is,” says Gaylord. “Obviously when you turn on the conventions you see a lot more women, a lot more blacks, a lot more openness to diversity, and I think that minorities of any ilk might feel more welcome in that party, and they might think, Someone like myself might be at that convention.”
Members of the conservative establishment concur with Youngblood and Gaylor about the potential for the GOP to become more religiously diverse.
“I think there is room on the right for everyone who has a sober view of human nature,” says David Azerrad of the Heritage Foundation’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics. “Whether you get that from original sin because you’re a Christian or whether you get it simply by studying history and reading Plutarch and Thucydides and seeing human nature doesn’t really change; I think there’s room for you on the right, with or without God.”
He’s right, and Republicans could probably do a lot more to make that clear.
Andrew Walker, also from Heritage, argues that the Right needs to make a stronger non-religious case for social conservatism if it wants to stay electorally viable.
“Here’s the bottom line,” he says. “If the GOP wants to abandon Evangelicals or social-conservative values, they’re going to be losing a pretty large constituency. Right now they’re approaching a point with Christians where you can’t live with them, we’re told, but you can’t live without them.”
The GOP’s platform on social issues probably won’t change anytime soon. But the party has plenty of room for people like Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, Richard Tisei, and Mike Fleck, who don’t march in lockstep on social issues. (And for goodness’ sake, somebody get GOProud a booth at CPAC.) If the party makes its libertarian wing more visible, non-religious voters might realize there are plenty of reasons to vote Republican besides thinking it would be the end of the West for two men to get married.
At least for the next few decades, the GOP will continue to rely heavily on support from the devout. But that doesn’t mean Republicans should give up on balancing loyalty to their base with improving their prospects among the religiously unaffiliated. At the moment, the relationship between the GOP and the nones is ambiguous, but that’s never ground for despair — in fact, quite the opposite. Demographics don’t have to be the party’s damnation. And miracles happen.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.