The voters who are most amped for the 2018 elections look elite in nearly every way. They are Democrats, college-educated, and largely secular. They are likely to be women, but they’re not necessarily white or particularly young. These are the people who might post rants about Donald Trump on Facebook or harass their friends to donate to Planned Parenthood. They may sign petitions on Change.org or follow the Facebook page of the U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, even though they don’t live in Texas. Maybe they attended the Women’s March two years ago, or the March for Our Lives this spring.
This is the sketch that emerges from a new poll by The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute, which looks at Americans’ civic engagement in the lead-up to November’s midterms. With Democrats fired up in opposition to Trump and the Republican majority in both houses of Congress, it’s no shock that liberal voters are leading the way with political activism. “Whoever is in the losing party tends to be more energized,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. “They have something to win back.”
It’s the segment that’s surprising: Religiously unaffiliated voters, who may or may not be associated with other civic institutions, seem most excited about supporting or donating to causes, going to rallies, and expressing opinions online, among other activities. Political engagement may be providing these Americans with a new form of identity. And in turn, they may be helping to solidify the new identity of the Democratic Party.
Democrats have traditionally had a strong base of religious voters. A decade ago, more than 80 percent of self-identified Democrats were affiliated with some sort of religion, according to the Pew Research Center. The party was nearly one-quarter Catholic and nearly one-half Protestant, including mainline, evangelical, and historically black denominations. By 2014, those numbers had shifted significantly: Pew found that 28 percent of Democrats identified as religiously unaffiliated.
This year, the God gap also seems to be an enthusiasm gap. In the new PRRI survey of 1,811 respondents, conducted this year in August and September, religiously unaffiliated Democrats were more than twice as likely to have attended a rally within the past 12 months compared with their religious peers. During that time, they were significantly more likely to have contacted an elected official or to have donated to a candidate or cause. And nearly half of religiously unaffiliated Democrats said they had bought or boycotted a product for political reasons or posted political opinions online, compared with roughly one-quarter of their religious peers. “Culturally, this is the subgroup of the Democratic Party that feels most at odds with the direction of the country and what the Trump administration is doing,” said Dan Cox, the research director at PRRI. “These secular Democrats also tend to be the most liberal.”
Secular Democrats were also much more likely to say they’re angry about what’s going on in the country today: Forty-one percent described…