Tonight at 9pm ET, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off in the first head-to-head debate in the race for the Presidency. One of the glaring differences many will notice between the 2016 debates and those of races past will be the lack of references to the religious beliefs of voters and the candidates themselves. Yes, religion may be mentioned, but it’s far more likely that the religious views of Islamic terrorists will be discussed more than the faith of the candidates or their voting blocs.
In recent races, there was much discussion surrounding the religious beliefs and affiliations of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, George Bush and others. But in 2016, the Religious Right seemingly lacks a home with either of these candidates, choosing from Trump, who famously mispronounced the name of “2 Corinthians” amid giggles from Liberty University students, and Clinton, who very seldom makes mention of her own faith.
Though Donald Trump has won the support of Evangelicals, it isn’t because of his strong faith or moral compass. They’re voting Trump based on allegiance to the Republican Party, and as Pew Research discovered, because they’re mainly voting against Clinton. Prior to supporting Trump, Evangelicals split their collective vote between primary candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and John Kasich, which may have sealed the deal for the Republican nominee. A more unified anti-Trump Evangelical movement could have easily beat out the leading candidate who routinely led polls with only 30-40% of the vote during the primaries.
So now we have two candidates who did not run with their religious convictions on their sleeves, unlike a number of Republican candidates who claimed God told them to run (and apparently lose). Based on the lack of importance each candidate has placed on religion (unless at an event forced to pander to a religious group), I wouldn’t expect any softball questions being tossed their way from Lester Holt tonight to knock out of the holy park. As a secularist, I couldn’t be happier, despite not being a huge fan of either of these candidates (and totally despising one of them).
The deviation from a focus on the religious faith of the candidates is a sign of the direction our nation is headed. The populace is much more secular than it has been in the past, with over 25% identifying as “nones.” Aside from the differences in the debates, as we become more of a secular people, we’re also going to see more pushback from the Religious Right. Expect the Right to complain about the lack of references to religion in the debates, just as they’re fighting back vehemently against the modernization of our laws and societal norms in regards to the LGBTQ and secular movements.