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.