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How Secular Voters Can Decide the Election

Secular voters are not a swing constituency. For at least four decades, most secular voters have supported the Democratic Party candidates for office. This election is unlikely to be an exception. The 2020 Secular Voices Survey shows that 68 percent of secular voters support former Vice President Joe Biden, while only 30 percent support President Donald Trump. The lopsided preferences of secular voters make this the decisive voting cohort in the election. On the national scale, secular voters give Biden the lead as Trump wins Christian voters 52–47. Trump’s strength in this population stems from his support of 63 percent of white Christian voters.

The election, of course, is not decided by the popular vote. Every Presidential election cycle centers its attention on the so-called battleground states, those where the election is expected to be close and where candidates place most of their campaign efforts and finances.

Secular voters do not just provide Biden the advantage in the popular vote. They provide Biden an advantage in those all-important battleground states. Dividing the 2020 Secular Voices Survey sample into three groups of voters living in blue states, red states, and battleground states shows how important the secular voter bloc has become for Biden and the Democratic Party in 2020. We define blue states as those ranked by the Cook Political Report as “solid” or “likely” Democratic as of September 9, 2020. Red states are those ranked by Cook as “solid” or “likely” Republican. Battleground states are those given a rating of “lean” Democrat or Republican, or “toss-up” by Cook.

Biden leads among blue state voters by 22 percentage points (60–38), and his lead largely comes from secular voters, among whom he leads by 59 points (78–19). Biden holds a small 4-point lead (51–47) among Christian voters in blue states. Trump leads among red state voters by 10 percentage points (54–44). Among Christians voting in red states, Trump leads by nearly 20 percentage points (58–40). Secular voters, among whom Biden leads 60–37, cut the president’s lead in half in these states.

The impact of secular voters is most strongly felt in battleground states. Trump leads among Christian voters in these states by five points (52–47), but Biden’s 21-point lead (59–38) among secular voters flips the final tally to a 52–47 Biden advantage.

This year’s election is poised to be decided in states that account for just under 40 percent of Electoral College votes. Because the country’s Christian religious majority is deeply polarized by race, secular voters are a crucial cohort. In blue states, secular voters make a likely Biden victory more certain. In red states, they make Trump’s victories less impressive. In battleground states, secular voters will determine the winner of the 2020 presidential contest.

Table 1. List of states

Blue, Red, and Battleground states defined using the Cook Political Report Electoral College Ratings as of 9/9/2020.

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