How will pagans vote… and will their ballots make a difference?

By Gustav Niebuhr The “Pagan vote” has been on my mind of late–and not only because the major religious groups … Continued

By Gustav Niebuhr

The “Pagan vote” has been on my mind of late–and not only because the major religious groups (think evangelicals, think Roman Catholics) draw extensive, academic study every election cycle. And given that we keep hearing how many House and Senate races are in play on Nov. 2, couldn’t the votes of a single, smaller group count for a lot?

It seems eminently possible that they could. But when it comes to assessing Pagans’ potential political power, how can one be more precise?

Many people would start with the basic question, just how many Pagans are there in the United States? Actually, there are some reputable guesses. The American Religious Identification Survey, which tracks many groups, estimated in 2008 a total population of 340,000–along with an almost equal number of Wiccans (practitioners of contemporary witchcraft). For two spiritual identities that relatively few people claimed 25 years ago, those are not bad numbers. Taken together, they make up a larger population than those of some better known faith groups, such as the Unitarian-Universalists.

But then there’s another question: Are Pagans and Wiccans geographically concentrated in any political jurisdictions to make an electoral difference?

More to the point, how many of them actually vote? That’s the key question.

It leads me to two observations. As far as I can tell, no political candidates have made any direct appeals this election cycle for the Pagan vote. Now, that may simply be a matter of time. But I suspect that, for a while at least, any Pagan-friendly politician might well worry that reaching out in this particular direction could drive off other voters who do not like the idea of Pagans in politics.

Over the years, I have met and spoken with any number of self-identified Pagans and Wiccans, on college campuses and elsewhere. But I have yet to have a single political conversation with any, even about politics at the most local level. Yes, it’s partly my fault for not bringing the subject up.

I assume Pagans care about religious freedom. And I have certainly met Wiccans who speak passionately about the environment. But what else is on their agenda? And does that translate into voting?

Dear Readers, Pagan and non-Pagan alike, I invite you to help clear up this mystery.

Gustav Niebuhr
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  • GabrielRockman

    It is foolish to believe that Pagans will vote as one homogenous block. Christians have a very wide range of political beliefs, and Pagans as well cover a very wide range of beliefs. And while Christians are more concentrated on the right, Pagans are (assumedly) more concentrated on the left.However, to believe that Pagans are pro-choice is foolish. Being Pagan does not prohibit one from valuing life, or believing that life and human rights start at conception. Pregnancy is a very special event to a lot of Pagans, and looking back through the history of past Pagan religions, many of them placed pregnant women as being very important and even hallowed. Furthermore, Pagan religions have almost always been better than the monotheistic religions are valuing women, and many times this was due to their status as those who give birth to life.Contary to the harmful stereotype spread around about them, Pagan religions almost always place a very high value on life. I would not be surprised if those who are genuinely Pagan (and not atheistic or satanist) are more pro-life than Christians. When one looks at Druidism and Wiccanism, one sees a respect for life similar to that of Christianity, but sees less hypocrisy among the followers.There are followers of Pagan religions who miss the point of their religion, just as there are followers of Christianity who miss the point of Christianity, and as there are self avowed Atheists who are ignorant of the huge role of faith (just faith, not faith in God) in their lives.Pagans, Christians, Atheists, and other faiths are all alike in that there are believers who are true to the faith, and believers who have been led astray in their faith. They are alike in that there are both Republicans and Democrats among their members. And they are alike that in when we stereotype them, we diminish our ability to truly understand them.

  • APaganplace

    Well, by the most common labels, we consider the number of Pagans/Heathens, etc to be generally in the neighborhood of about a million. (There are some pretty substantial reasons for many surveys to under-count us, notably, a lot of us actually are hiding from discrimination, etc.)And, yes, we vote. Anecdotally well above the turnout of the general population, (I actually can’t think of anyone I know who *isn’t* voting this election, or even claimed so online.) In these times a lot of political matters are of great concern. As for geographic concentrations, that’s an interesting question: for the most part, we’re as yet pretty well spread out, apart from in a few cities generally considered ‘liberal’ and tolerant, which tend to be magnets. Otherwise, we’re pretty spread out. In ‘Red States’ usually less *visible,* but there’s obvious reasons for that. In general we run to the quite liberal, (A distinct minority of conservative Pagans tends to run libertarian, particularly on social issues.) The values of freedom and personal responsibility for ‘moral issues’ and the obvious environmentalism tends to cut across any conservative/liberal divides: there’s a lot of nominal Greens who vote against the Republicans where necessary, and there are a lot of nominal Libertarians who are often a bit at loose ends with the party and the pro-corporate stances, etc.I like to say in general that we like to keep our personal responsibilities personal and our social responsibilities social. 🙂 Typically, we’ll be pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-LGBT rights, anti-war, ‘pro-guns’ at least to an extent, typically OK with being taxed for good reasons, resentful of being taxed for bad ones, pro-separation of church and state, suspicious of big money, pro-science, pro sex-ed, …a lot of the rest really varies. Pagans are generally used to being our own ‘moral authorities’ and consider ourselves responsible for thinking such decisions through on the facts and likely effects. In a lot of ways, we’re not often a major ‘swing vote,’ except if we’re a concentration in a rural district, and there are certain cities like San Fransisco and Minneapolis where there’s certainly enough of us that a politician would do well not to throw us under the bus. We’ll certainly be unlikely to vote for Fundamentalist fanatics, cause that’s obviously self-destructive. We may, however, have a disproportionate amount of persuasive influence (If anyone can really be said to have any) simply *because* our perspective’s often different from the usual back-and-forth in the mainstream media.

  • APaganplace

    On this, though, Gabriel:””However, to believe that Pagans are pro-choice is foolish. Being Pagan does not prohibit one from valuing life, or believing that life and human rights start at conception. “”While it’s true that we value motherhood and pregnancy highly, we also tend to believe that the right to choose lies with the mother, not the church or state, for the very same reasons. As for ‘human life and rights beginning at conception’ that’s *not* a common view in terms of the ‘abortion issue:’ plenty of people place the sort of ‘point of no return’ at *quickening:* even if the pregnancy is obviously valued all along. Since Pagans don’t generally believe that a soul is created *by* conception, there’s no fixed dogma or view that way. When the human experience starts is perhaps the determining factor, if I can characterize the process of it. Women report *just knowing,* and that’s what that is. I’d say Pagan women believe the choice is with women, but very rarely in fact choose so. It’s a question of what’s the most responsible thing.

  • APaganplace

    (Maybe that’s an important example, really: motherhood’s sacred, but that doesn’t mean we are against contraception or believe that aborted embryoes or blastulae are souls stuck in theological limbo or something: pregnancy is a serious and sacred matter and not a gift to be turned down lightly, Pregnancy is a process, not a ‘sentence:’ It’s one we take very seriously, though. And that includes not imposing arbitrary decisions based on someone else’s dogma. The many of us who hold to reincarnation or other notions of transmigration of souls know that it’s a weighty and wonderful matter to bring someone into the world as one’s child: it’s not, however, ‘one chance at salvation or death, starting at conception,’ which is the premise upon which that pro-life extremism is based. When one votes for something, it’s not always even about the ‘moral judgment’ one may believe in: one may be voting on *who gets to make the decision.* While many monotheists believe they have the right to compel others to make certain decisions, particularly around things sexual, this is not a Pagan view. The whole, ‘If it harms none, do what you will,’ bit (Very American of us, if you asked me,) informs a lot of things for Pagans where others may feel obligated to make an all-or-nothing-one-way-for-all judgment, even if there’s clearly a lot of controversy. We don’t much believe in shooting people, either, but tend to think that sort of decision ideally rests in a well-trained and ethical individual, not a blanket prohibition. We may believe waste and pollution are unethical, that doesn’t mean we would ‘ban all SUV’s’ if given the chance. One might have a perfectly good reason to need one, even if they’re commonly emblems of callous waste. More than that, we don’t believe running around saying, ‘Goddess says this is an abomination!’ is a reasoned way to convince anyone of anything. If there were no environmental threats to our world, we would still honor the Earth as sacred: the fact that these threats *exist* make it a matter for science, government, and reasoned debate and action. See?

  • paulhume

    Pretty much a non-starter as a real question.The vast majority of Neopagans are politically liberal. Yes indeed, I know antiabortion Neopagans, Neopagans who support much of the conservative agenda, Neopagans who support our military interventions, but these are a distinct minority.I myself tend towards the liberal end of the spectrum, but leaving that aside, Democrats (or third party candidates who are committed to individual liberties) are simply safer for Neopagans, since they are more likely to leave us alone.Republicans carry the weight of President Bush’s statement, during his first campaign, that he did not think witchcraft was really a religion. This was during the controversy Bob Barr stirred up by attacking the Army for providing chaplain resources to Wiccan soldiers stationed at Ft. Hood. Ironically, a few years later, that poisoned the well for me with the Libertarians when they made Barr their presidential candidate.The posturing on both sides with Christine O’Donnell’s tale of youthful indiscretions just underscored the issue: Republicans seem more prone to make Neopaganism a source of red meat for their base. Hard to vote for a party which regards you as a fisherman might a bucket of chum.(This leaves aside the posturing on the Neopagan side of the issue, such as it was, about the use of the terms witch and witchcraft, which Wicca would love to trademark, but alas, cannot).

  • APaganplace

    So, really, when it comes down to it, it’ll have much to do with what ‘courting a religious vote’ never mind a Pagan one… *means.*We don’t generally respond well to ‘wedge issues’ usually considered religious ones. (Back to that example where most Pagans consider motherhood as one of the most sacred things out there, but are *pro- choice, pro-sex ed, pro-contraception, and pro-supporting mothers. Also pro-reducing the toxins and stresses that harm babies’ bodies before they’re born.* Some things are simple, that way: Holding life to be sacred doesn’t mean ‘Enforce pregnancy on people.’ Holding sexuality to be a sacred rite *certainly* doesn’t mean ‘The Government should penalize people if they don’t obey churches, cause Christians think it’s a ‘sin,’ Our values of personal and community responsibilities may involve a fair bit of economic autonomy, but that *sure* doesn’t mean we think it should be an unregulated free-for-all favoring the most irresponsible and short-sighted just cause they’ve already got the money. We just don’t believe life, never mind government, is defined by conformity to imposed absolutes, save of course those our liberty and government is *based on holding as self-evident.* Our values are actually very often based on an axiom that couldn’t be more American, in one of the best senses of that: “If you aren’t hurting anyone, be free.” That freedom comes with it a constant discipline of being *aware* and *caring* and of *valuing others, both as free beings and as people we may affect.* I think it goes beyond, in many ways, that oft-cited ‘Golden Rule’ and means trying to treat others as *they* may want to be treated, not just assuming they’re meant to be a reflection of onesself. For all that, we’re really not so different from other Americans, at least when they aren’t dealing in absolutes and books of excuses and identity-politics and fears. The narrative’s just different. And it’s ‘narratives’ that ideology and media-politics and religious impositions-thereupon play upon. Notably, Pagans don’t tend to believe ‘the ends justify the means.’ We don’t believe in ‘ends,’ not particularly, for one, and the *means and intentions are the very fabric of life we’re living.* We certainly don’t believe that uncompromising ideological tugs-of-war are necessarily any more than just that: left, right, or center, it’s just a lot of effort not going far from mud.