U.S. President Barack Obama’s multiple references to Planned Parenthood in the second presidential debate showed how keen he is to sway female voters in swing states.

He may have emboldened another demographic in the process, without making an overt appeal. I’m talking about secular Americans. Compared with their religious peers, this bloc of Americans is much more inclined to support women’s rights and gender equality. And the number of nonbelieving Americans is rapidly increasing.

A study released last week by the Pew Research Center provides evidence of what many sociologists have observed: The proportion of Americans who say “none” when asked their religion is the highest recorded in such surveys.

The numbers are striking. In 1990, only 8 percent of Americans claimed to have no religion. Today, about 20 percent claim as much. More than one-third of American adults younger than 30 are now religiously unaffiliated, which means that among 20-somethings, secular Americans far outnumber evangelical Christians — a big shift from 25 years ago.

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