Gallup: For the first time, a majority of Americans say they’d vote for an atheist for president

Gallup: For the first time, a majority of Americans say they’d vote for an atheist for president


I’ve blogged a bunch of these Gallup polls over the years and my demographic has always been at the bottom of the barrel preference-wise. But things are improving: In 2007, just 45 percent said they’d vote for an atheist, then last year it crept up to 49 percent. Now we’re over the hump at 54. I wonder why. It’s not like the “new atheism” suddenly exploded onto the national scene over the past six months, and to hear believers tell it, the new atheism is more likely to alienate people than persuade them. Maybe, maybe not. What you’re seeing here, I think, is the fruit of normalization: It’s not so much that people are becoming more sympathetic to atheism (although that might be true) than that, as atheists become more visible culturally, people see for themselves that we’re not that weird or threatening. Acceptance of gays works along the same lines, of course, except that they’re further along than we are. For a vivid illustration of that, follow the Gallup link up top and check out the breakdown among different age groups. Young adults react to gays and atheists similarly; older adults, not so much. Note the trendlines in the table I posted above, too. Thirty-five years ago, atheists held a double-digit lead on this question over gays. Today, the opposite is true.

This isn’t much of a partisan issue, either:

I’d love to see the demographic split on Democrats who would and wouldn’t vote for a nonbeliever. If, say, 90 percent of limousine liberals are willing to vote for an atheist, how low must the percentage be among blue-collar Dems? Ah well. Suffice it to say, it’s still risky even for a secretly atheist liberal pol to admit his lack of faith publicly.

Oh, and as for the elephant in the room, 24 percent of Democrats admit that they won’t vote for a Mormon versus just 10 percent of Republicans who say so. Overall, 18 percent of adults say they wouldn’t; a year ago, it was 22 percent. The reason that number has shrunk is almost entirely due to GOPers becoming more comfortable with a Mormon nominee as Romney advanced through the primaries. Last year, 80 percent of Republicans said they’d be willing to vote for a Mormon. This year, 90 percent say so. Mitt’s made a difference to future elections even if he doesn’t win this one.

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Comment by jay H on June 24, 2012 at 6:41am
Funny how this blogger sees it somewhat differently

There is a large established difference between what people tell pollsters and how they actually vote. There are a number of theories as to why, some suggest that people are embarrassed to admit racist or other motivations.

Personally I think that explanation is not the primary thing that's going on. People sometimes agree with something in the abstract (marijuana legalisation etc)but when it comes to actually committing to it, pulling the lever in the voting booth, something else kicks in. Change becomes a risk, "what if it leads to more drug abuse or other crime" etc, and people back away. This is human nature, and it's not altogether a bad thing. Change is risky and can go terribly wrong with unanticipated consequences, so people instinctively hesitate.

Having said that, I think the eventual requirement is a personable atheist, someone people can relate to. Analysis to the contrary, we are social animals and we vote with our social instincts more than with our heads (hence Obama who is basically George Bush in a more articulate package).
Comment by Loren Miller on June 23, 2012 at 6:40am

I have to say I'm pleased and someone surprised.  Still, I can't help but notice the difference in percentages from those voting for someone with what we know amounts to an irrational belief.

We have a LONG way to go yet...



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