I know of 3 instances where atheism was an “issue” in the most recent 2008 election.
First, Pete Stark. He is the first openly atheist member of Congress in U.S. history. The revelation was met mostly with yawns when it happened. This most recent election was his first campaign since outing himself:
1992 Pete Stark 60.2%
1994 Pete Stark 64.62%
1996 Pete Stark 65.2%
1998 Pete Stark 71.2%
2000 Pete Stark 70.5%
2002 Pete Stark 71.1%
2004 Pete Stark 71.7%
2006 Pete Stark 74.9%
2008 Pete Stark 76.4%
No harm done — quite possibly, a net benefit, as this was his highest % ever.
Second, Kay Hagan. From August 26th up until the election Elizabeth Dole (an incumbent) launched attack after attack on Kay Hagan for attending an ActBlue fundraiser hosted by two board members of the Secular Coalition for America. Kay Hagan took her first lead in polls about the same time. (The polls were released after the press release but I think the data was collected before.) The attacks grew more and more aggressive, culminating in two TV ads, and Hagan’s lead grew and grew.
In the November election, Hagan won by an unexpectedly wide margin, winning 53 percent of the vote to Dole’s 44 percent — the largest margin of victory for a Senate race in North Carolina in 30 years, and the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent Senator in the 2008 cycle.
Third, Rob Sherman. I’m not sure if his status as an atheist activist helped or hurt him. He was running on the Green Party ticket for a state Assembly seat and got 3% of the vote. Someone with local political knowledge would have to tell me if this is more or less than you would expect for a Green party candidate in that area.
So: start letting the politicians know that seeking out non-religious voters and appealing to secular values is not only the right thing to do, it’s in their own self-interest.
There was one other election I hadn’t mentioned that might be of interest to atheists. It’s an example of how atheists didn’t come together… though we didn’t really have a choice here.
Remember Illinois State Representative Monique Davis, the woman who said to atheist Sherman: “…it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!”? She was unopposed in her district and won re-election unanimously. She had privately apologized for her statement, but there was still no real damage to her reputation. Hopefully, a more open-minded candidate will run against her in two years.
Your thoughts on all this?