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Ask Professor Burge 18: Electorate Political Party Space


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/02

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about Nones, politics, and electorate political space.

*Interview conducted on November 23, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In a previous session with a previous question, I remember or recall a review of atheists or the Nones in general having an increasing share of the voting base for Republicans and therefore, by implication, Trump, in the last two elections. However, in the 2020 election, compared to the 2016 election, there has been a decline for atheists, agnostics, and nothing in particular. So, the Nones in general, do you think that’s just a blip, a regression of that trend in terms of a reduction of those who support Republican Party policies and politicians? Or do you think that that is more of a trend? This is more a sign of a decline or long term erosion of support among the Nones for Republicans.

Professor Ryan Burge: I think that Trump was good at driving away that less than a million, like insanely good at it because of his pandering to Evangelicals and some of his policies were focused on shoring up the base of white Evangelicals, which he did. They got that. You got to think that white Evangelicals. So, he succeeded in that effort. But I do wonder if he gave away a lot of religious folks that he could have won, if he would have reached out in any way at all instead of pandering to the Christian Nationalists. So, I did a presentation for the American Atheists organization where I, basically, walked everyone through the data they have for 2020, so far. And it does look like that the Nones abandoned Trump even more, this time. Atheists were 15% for 2016, then it was 10%. Agnostics are right about the same. In particular, an even bigger number, 6% or 7% of adults together, you get about 2% of the vote that switched from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020. That, by itself, is enough to get the win for Joe Biden in 2020. But I think you make a good point. I think this election would be what we talked about. It is a sorting election, clean the electorate and in a severe way. I don’t know. Other Republicans are going to be less controversial than Donald Trump. I do wonder if those Republicans can get back to 15%. Then it becomes a lot more competitive for Republicans, which is Trump was unable to play the base in 2020. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons he lost what he was able to make become any bigger than everybody got in 2016, again. And he just wasn’t able to do that. So, that’s enough for him to lose.

Jacobsen: Democrats, the white Evangelicals are not budging aggregately. Republicans have this in their favour. Why is this so? And what is an extended commentary for Democrats? What is an extended commentary for Republicans?

Burge: Yes, so, for years, like clockwork, there is this thing, which is an industrial complex that the Democrats are going to win back some white Evangelicals. They’re going to raise a bunch of money and put up these organizations and try to win over enough white Evangelicals to show, “Oh, we can win back the religious vote every year or every presidential election cycle.” It is the same thing: white Evangelicals, 78% of Republicans. That goes back to John McCain four years ago. There’s no reason to believe the white Evangelicals are going to move. They are committed to Republicans as black pastors are to Democrats. There is no switching there. There’s no movement there. There’s no daylight there. So, all these things that the Democrats have been trying to do to win over these white Evangelicals has, basically, been a waste of time and resources. At the same time, though, I would argue that one of Trump’s major flaws was he pandered to white Evangelicals the whole time. Which was why Evangelicals vote 78%, whether moving the capital to Jerusalem or whatever else he did because they love Donald Trump, so, I think for Trump, the Democrats should focus their attention somewhere else. The Republicans should also focus their attention somewhere else to try to win groups like white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics and Evangelicals, other groups that actually can swing and they’ve shown a propensity to swing a little bit from election to election and that’s where the election is decided. Not the blocs, the concrete blocks on both sides, it is the middle of the electorate where all this stuff work outs. It seems like, especially most Republicans, that they ignored that fact this time. And just luckily for Joe Biden, he was likable enough to win them over at this time.

Jacobsen: How do people view the electorate in a political party space?

Burge: So, it is fascinating, I think, where you get to see how people view the electorate. They like how they view the anchors in political space. And what I think is fascinating are atheists, atheists from 2012 to 2016 for themselves are in lockstep with the Democratic Party. They place themselves right in the same spot, which they place the Democrats. But for 2016, obviously, before the interesting happened, atheists saw themselves drifting further and further to the left of the ideological spectrum, but then they saw the Democratic Party basically moving further and further to the right of the ideological spectrum. And now atheists see themselves as being more liberal than the Democrats, which is the only religious group in America today to see themselves as being more liberal than the Democrats. And there’s not a single religious organization that sees himself as being more conservative than the Republicans. So, atheists see themselves as a way out for the left. Even past the Democratic Party now, which I think tells you a lot about how the Democrat Party is becoming moderate when everyone else is becoming more liberal.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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