Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why Don't Politicians Court the Pagan Vote?

(Cross-posted at

This may seem like a silly question on the face of it, but I think it’s worth exploring, as there are sometimes not-so-obvious truths that come out with such an examination. I put it down to three distinct reasons.

First, Pagans are a very small group, relatively speaking. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, whose U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from 2007 remains the definitive source of hard numbers, Wiccans and other Pagans together made up approximately 0.3% of the population of the United States. The American Religious Identity Survey (ARIS) conducted by Trinity College in 2001 places the figure even lower at 0.1%. I'm going to go with the Pew numbers, for the sake of argument.

While that puts Pagans (which, presumably, includes Heathens as well) comfortably ahead of groups such as the Scientologists (0.02%) and Baha’is (0.04%), we’re still lagging way behind even relatively small groups such as Muslims (0.6%). So that’s one explanation; in terms of raw numbers, we’re pretty insignificant. But keep those numbers in the back of your mind; we’re coming back to them in a bit.

Next, we have the perception that Pagans as a group will vote in a block (as a rule, for Democrats, or possibly Greens). This presents an enormous problem in terms of garnering attention from politicians. If it appears as if the Pagan vote isn’t “up for grabs”, then politicians have no reason to court Pagans. This can work both ways. Republicans will feel that any effort they make on the Pagan vote would be wasted, and Democrats will feel that the Pagan vote is so comfortably in their camp that they can take for granted the fact that they have it locked up, and have no need to actively pursue it.

Which brings us to the final reason; actively courting the Pagan vote can actually work to alienate other, more valuable, constituencies. It was actually remarkable that President Obama made reference to “non-believers” in his inaugural address, despite the fact that they make up a not-insignificant 13.2% of the population. But if he had specifically called out Wiccans, or Witches, or Heathens? There would have been a much larger uproar. Bear in mind that the vast majority of the Democrat coalition are Christians; that should come as no surprise, as the vast majority of Americans are Christians. To call out an unpopular and somewhat threatening (to those who do believe in the Bible, which is a group that transcends all party and ideological boundaries) minority for little to no gain would have been foolhardy. Why risk the potential blow-back when you’ve got the Pagan vote in your pocket?

Now to come back to the numbers.

According to the Pew study, approximately 0.6% of the nation is Muslim. When compared to the 23.9% that are Catholic, or the 26.3% that are Evangelicals, that doesn’t seem too much greater than the 0.3% that’s Pagan. There are twice as many Muslims as there are Pagans. Fine. But does it really seem that Muslims have *only* twice as much influence in American politics as Pagans? Where are the hundreds of Pagan worship centers across the country? Where are our priests and priestesses, our goðar being asked to perform public invocations in the U.S. House of Representatives or in state houses across the country? Where are our leaders and spokesmen when we are insulted and treated as a caricature no better than the "blackface minstrel show" in popular culture? Why doesn't the PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly interfaith calendar (partially paid for with our tax dollars, I will note) cover Pagan and Heathen holidays? The Baha’is are included, with a tenth of our numbers. Why not us?

You can’t get away from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on television when someone scribbles a doodle and puts the word “Mohammed” under it. Pagans and Heathens face much more real, and much more harmful, discrimination on an everyday basis.

I think that Pagans need to organize to make our collective voice heard. We need to stand up and demand recognition as one of the many faiths that make up our melting pot of a nation, and that we are not only politically active but also not a monolithic block that can be taken for granted. If a politician does dare public approbation by reaching out to the Pagan community specifically (as Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson did not too long ago), we should at least be open to the possibility of supporting them.

Pagans are, as a rule, a contentious and independent-minded bunch. But unless we come together and say “We are Pagans and Heathens, we are as important as the Muslim vote, we’re going to support people who support us and speak to our issues, and you’d better come to realize it” then we will continue to be marginalized, ignored, and ultimately, forgotten.

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